[Ppnews] George Jackson - by Walter Rodney

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Aug 3 10:36:03 EDT 2009


By 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 Americas 
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 mans 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 Americas chief 
prison warder, Richard Nixon. What remains is to 
go beyond the generalities and to understand the 
most significant elements attaching to George Jacksons 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. 
Jacksons 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 Jacksons 
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 Prisoners.

For more than a decade now, peoples 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 Americas 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.

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