[Ppnews] George Jackson - by Walter Rodney

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Thu Aug 4 12:48:12 EDT 2005



Walter Rodney - November 1971

To most readers in this continent, starved of authentic information by the 
imperialist news agencies, the name of George Jackson is either unfamiliar 
or just a name.  The powers that be in the United States put forward the 
official version that George Jackson was a dangerous criminal kept in 
maximum security in America’s toughest jails and still capable of killing a 
guard at Soledad Prison.  They say that he himself was killed attempting 
escape this year in August.  Official versions given by the United States 
of everything from the Bay of Pigs in Cuba to the Bay of Tonkin in Vietnam 
have the common characteristic of standing truth on its head.  George 
Jackson was jailed ostensibly for stealing 70 dollars.  He was given a 
sentence of “one year to life” because he was black, and he was kept 
incarcerated for years under the most dehumanizing conditions because he 
discovered that blackness need not be a badge of servility but rather could 
be a banner for uncompromising revolutionary struggle.  He was murdered 
because he was doing too much to pass this attitude on to fellow 
prisoners.  George Jackson was political prisoner and a black freedom 
fighter.  He died at the hands of the enemy.

Once it is made known that George Jackson was a black revolutionary in the 
white man’s jails, at least one point is established, since we are familiar 
with the fact that a significant proportion of African nationalist leaders 
graduated from colonialist prisons, and right now the jails of South Africa 
hold captive some of the best of our brothers in that part of the 
continent.  Furthermore, there is some considerable awareness that ever 
since the days of slavery the U.S.A. is nothing but a vast prison as far as 
African descendants are concerned.  Within this prison, black life is 
cheap, so it should be no surprise that George Jackson was murdered by the 
San Quentin prison authorities who are responsible to America’s chief 
prison warder, Richard Nixon.  What remains is to go beyond the 
generalities and to understand the most significant elements attaching to 
George Jackson’s life and death.

When he was killed in August this year, George Jackson was twenty-nine 
years of age and had spent the last fifteen [correction: 11 years] behind 
bars – seven of these in special isolation.  As he himself put it, he was 
from the “lumpen”.  He was not part of the regular producer force of 
workers and peasants.  Being cut off from the system of production, lumpen 
elements in the past rarely understood the society which victimized them 
and were not to be counted upon to take organized revolutionary steps 
within capitalist society.  Indeed, the very term “lumpen proletariat” was 
originally intended to convey the inferiority of this sector as compared 
with the authentic working class.

Yet George Jackson, like Malcolm X before him, educated himself painfully 
behind prison bars to the point where his clear vision of historical and 
contemporary reality and his ability to communicate his perspective 
frightened the U.S. power structure into physically liquidating 
him.  Jackson’s survival for so many years in vicious jails, his 
self-education, and his publication of “Soledad Brother” were tremendous 
personal achievements, and in addition they offer on interesting insight 
into the revolutionary potential of the black mass in the U.S.A., so many 
of whom have been reduced to the status of lumpen.

Under capitalism, the worker is exploited through the alienation of part of 
the product of his labour.  For the African peasant, the exploitation is 
effected through manipulation of the price of the crops which he laboured 
to produce.  Yet, work has always been rated higher than unemployment, for 
the obvious reason that survival depends upon the ability to obtain 
work.  Thus, early in the history of industrialization, workers coined the 
slogan “the right to work.”  Masses of black people in the U.S.A. are 
deprived of this basic right.  At best they live in a limbo of uncertainty 
as casual workers, last to be hired and first to be fired.  The line 
between the unemployed or “criminals” cannot be dismissed as white lumpen 
in capitalist Europe were usually dismissed.

The latter were considered as “misfits” and regular toilers served as the 
vanguard.  The thirty-odd million black people in the U.S.A. are not 
misfits.  They are the most oppressed and the most threatened as far as 
survival is concerned.  The greatness of George Jackson is that he served 
as a dynamic spokesman for the most wretched among the oppressed, and he 
was in the vanguard of the most dangerous front of struggle.

Jail is hardly an arena in which one would imagine that guerrilla warfare 
would take place.  Yet, it is on this most disadvantaged of terrains that 
blacks have displayed the guts to wage a war for dignity and freedom.  In 
“Soledad Brother,” George Jackson movingly reveals the nature of this 
struggle as it has evolved over the last few years.  Some of the more 
recent episodes in the struggle at San Quentin prison are worth 
recording.  On February 27th this year, black and brown (Mexican) prisoners 
announced the formation of a Third World Coalition.  This came in the wake 
of such organizations as a Black Panther Branch at San Quentin and the 
establishment of SATE (Self-Advancement Through Education).  This level of 
mobilisation of the nonwhite prisoners was resented and feared by white 
guards and some racist white prisoners.  The latter formed themselves into 
a self-declared Nazi group, and months of violent incidents 
followed.  Needless to say, with white authority on the side of the Nazis, 
Afro and Mexican brothers had a very hard time.  George Jackson is not the 
only casualty on the side of the blacks.  But their unity was maintained, 
and a majority of white prisoners either refused to support the “Nazis” or 
denounced them.  So, even within prison walls the first principle to be 
observed was unity in struggle.  Once the most oppressed had taken the 
initiative, then they could win allies.

The struggle within the jails is having wider and wider repercussions every 
day.  Firstly, it is creating true revolutionary cadres out of more and 
more lumpen.  This is particularly true in the jails of California, but the 
movement is making its impact felt everywhere from Baltimore to 
Texas.  Brothers inside are writing poetry, essays and letters which strip 
white capitalist America naked.  Like the Soledad Brothers, they have come 
to learn that “sociology books call us antisocial and brand us criminals, 
when actually the criminals are in the social register.”  The names of 
those who rule America are all in the social register.

Secondly, it is solidifying the black community in a remarkable way.  Petty 
bourgeois blacks also feel threatened by the manic police, judges and 
prison officers.  Black intellectuals who used to be completely alienated 
from any form of struggle except their personal “hustle” now recognize the 
need to ally with and take their bearings from the street forces of the 
black unemployed, ghetto dwellers and prison inmates.

Thirdly, the courage of black prisoners has elicited a response from white 
America.  The small band of white revolutionaries has taken a positive 
stand.  The Weathermen decried Jackson’s murder by placing a few bombs in 
given places and the Communist Party supported the demand by the black 
prisoners and the Black Panther Party that the murder was to be 
investigated.   On a more general note, white liberal America has been 
disturbed.  The white liberals never like to be told that white capitalist 
society is too rotten to be reformed.  Even the established capitalist 
press has come out with esposes of prison conditions, and the fascist 
massacres of black prisoners at Attica prison recently brought Senator 
Muskie out with a cry of “enough.”

Fourthly (and for our purposes most significantly) the efforts of black 
prisoners and blacks in America as a whole have had international 
repercussions.  The framed charges brought against Black Panther leaders 
and against Angela Davis have been denounced in many parts of the 
world.  Committees of defense and solidarity have been formed in places as 
far as Havana and Leipzig.  OPAAL declared August 18th as the day of 
international solidarity with Afro-Americans; and significantly most of 
their propaganda for this purpose ended with a call to “Free All Political 

For more than a decade now, people’s liberation movements in Vietnam, Cuba, 
Southern Africa, etc., have held conversations with militants and 
progressives in the U.S.A. pointing to the duality and respective 
responsibilities of struggle within the imperialist camp.  The revolution 
in the exploited colonies and neo-colonies has as its objective the 
expulsion of the imperialists: the revolution in the metropolis is to 
transform the capitalist relations of production in the countries of their 
origin.  Since the U.S.A. is the overlord of world imperialism, it has been 
common to portray any progressive movement there as operating “within the 
belly of the beast.”  Inside an isolation block in Soledad or San Quentin 
prisons, this was not merely a figurative expression.  George Jackson knew 
well what it meant to seek for heightened socialist and humanist 
consciousness inside the belly of the white imperialist beast.

International solidarity grows out of struggle in different 
localities.  This is the truth so profoundly and simply expressed by Che 
Guevara when he called for the creation of “one, two, three – many 
Vietnams.”  It has long been recognized that the white working class in the 
U.S.A is historically incapable of participating (as a class) in 
anti-imperialist struggle.  White racism and America’s leading role in 
world imperialism transformed organized labour in the U.S. into a 
reactionary force.  Conversely, the black struggle is internationally 
significant because it unmasks the barbarous social relations of capitalism 
and places the enemy on the defensive on his own home ground.  This is 
amply illustrated in the political process which involved the three 
“Soledad Brothers” – George Jackson, Fleeta Drumgo and John Clutchette – as 
well as Angela Davis and a host of other blacks now behind prison bars in 
the U.S.A.


NOTE:  George Jackson also authored “Blood In My Eye” which was published 
posthumously, or after this article was written.

The Freedom Archives
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San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-9977
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