[Ppnews] Remembering the Real Dragon- An Interview with George
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Aug 21 11:41:52 EDT 2009
Remembering the Real Dragon- An Interview with George Jackson May 16
and June 29, 1971
Interview by Karen Wald and published in Cages of Steel: The Politics
Of Imprisonment In The United States
(Edited by Ward Churchill and J.J. Vander Wall)
Karen Wald: George, could you comment on your conception of revolution?
George Jackson: The principle contradiction between the oppressor and
oppressed can be reduced to the fact that the only way the oppressor
can maintain his position is by fostering, nurturing, building
contempt for the oppressed. That thing gets out of hand after a
while. It leads to excesses that we see and the excesses are growing
within the totalitarian state here. The excesses breed resistance;
resistance is growing. The thing grows in a spiral. It can only end
one way. The excesses lead to resistance, resistance leads to
brutality, the brutality leads to more resistance, and finally the
question will be resolved with either the uneconomic destruction of
the oppressed, or the end of oppression. These are the workings of
revolution. It grows in spirals, confrontations, and I mean on all
levels. The institutions of society have buttressed the
establishment, so I mean all levels have to be assaulted.
Wald: How does the prison liberation movement fit into this? Is its
importance over-exaggerated or contrived?
Jackson: We don't have to contrive any.... Look, the particular thing
I'm involved in right now, the prison movement was started by Huey P.
Newton and the black panther party. Huey and the rest of the comrades
around the country. We're working with Ericka [Huggins] and Bobby
[Seale, chairman of the BPP; at the time they were co-defendants in a
murder trial in New Haven, Connecticut, on charges which were
subsequently dismissed], the prison movement in general, the movement
to prove the to the establishment that the concentration camp
technique won't work on us. We don't have to contrive any importance
to our particular movement. It's a very real, very-very real issue
and I'm of the opinion that, right along with the student movement,
right along with the old. Familiar workers' movement, the prison
movement is central to the process of revolution as a whole.
Wald: Many of the cadres of the revolutionary forces on the outside
have been captured and imprisoned. Are you saying that even though
they're in prison, these cadres can still function in a meaningful
way for the revolution?
Jackson: Well, we're all familiar with the function of the prison as
an institution serving the needs of the totalitarian state. We've got
to destroy that function; the function has to be no longer viable, in
the end. It's one of the strongest institutions supporting the
totalitarian state. We have to destroy its effectiveness, and that's
what the prison movement is all about. What I'm saying is that they
put us in these concentration campshere the same as they put people
in tiger cages or "strategic hamlets" in Vietnam. The idea is to
isolate, eliminate, liquidate the dynamic sections of the overall
movement, the protagonists of the movement. What we've got to do is
prove this won't work. We've got to organize our resistance once
we're inside, give them no peace, turn the prison into just another
front of the struggle, tear it down from the inside. Understand?
Wald: But can such a battle be won?
Jackson: A good deal of this has to do with our ability to
communicate to the people on the street. The nature of the function
of the prison within the police state has to be continuously
explained, elucidated to the people on the street because we can't
fight alone in here. Oh Yeah, we can fight, but if we're isolated, if
the state is successful in accomplishing that, the results are
usually not constructive in terms of proving our point. We fight and
we die, but that's not the point, although it may be admirable from
some sort of purely moral point of view. The point is, however, in
the face of what we confront, to fight and win. That's the real
objective: not just to make statements, no matter how noble, but to
destroy the system that oppresses us. By any means available to us.
And to do this, we must be connected, in contact and communication
with those in the struggle on the outside. We must be mutually
supporting because we're all in this together. It's one struggle at base.
Wald: Is the form of struggle you're talking about here different
from those with which we may be more familiar with, those which are
occurring in the third world, for example?
Jackson: Not Really. Of course, all struggles are different,
depending upon the whole range of particular factors involved. But
many of them have fundamental commonalities which are more important
than the differences. We are talking about a guerrilla war in this
country. The guerrilla, the new type of warrior who's developed out
of conflicts in the third world countries, doesn't fight for glory
necessarily. The guerrilla fights to win. The guerrilla fights the
same kind of fight we do, what's sometimes called a "poor man's war."
It's not a form of war fought with high tech weaponry, or
state-of-the-art gadgets. It's fought with whatever can be
had-captured weapons when they can be had, but often antiquated
firearms, homemade ordnance, knives, bows and arrows, even
slingshots-but mostly through the sheer will of the guerrilla to
fight and win, no matter what. Huey [P. Newton] says "the power of
the people will overcome the power of the man's technology," and
we've seen this proven true time after time in recent history.
You know, guerrilla war is not simply a matter of tactics and
technique. It's not just questions of hit-and-run or terrorism. It's
a matter of proving to the established order that it simply can't
sustain itself, that there is no possible way for them to win by
utilizing the means of force available to them. We have to prove that
wars are won by human beings, and not by mechanical devices. We've
got to show that in the end they can't resist us. And we will! We're
going to do it. There's never going to ever be a moment's peace for
anyone associated with the establishment any place where I'm at, or
where any of my comrades are at. But we're going to need
coordination, we're going to need help. And right now, that help
should come in the form of education. It's critical to teach the
people out there how important it is to destroy the function of the
prison within the society. That, and to show them in concrete terms
that the war is on - right now! - and that in that sense we really
aren't any different than the Vietnamese, or the Cubans, or the
Algerians, or any of the other revolutionary peoples of the world.
Wald: In an interview with some imprisoned tupamaros, urban
guerrillas in Uraguay, the question was raised about the decimation
of the ranks of tupamaros; comrades killed or imprisoned by the
state. Those interviewed assured me that there were far more people
joining the ranks than were being lost to state repression, and that
the movement was continuing to grow. Do you feel the same confidence
about the black panther party, about the revolutionary movement as a
whole in this country?
Jackson: We're structured in such a way as to allow us to exist and
continue to resist despite the losses we've absorbed. It was set up
that way. We know the enemy operates under the concept of "kill the
head and the body will die." They target those they see as key
leaders. We know this, and we've set up safeguards to prevent the
strategy from working against us. I know I could be killed tomorrow,
but the struggle would continue, there would be two hundred or three
hundred to take my place. As Fred Hampton put it, "You can kill the
revolutionary, but you can't kill the revolution." Hampton, as you
know, was head of the party in Chicago, and was murdered in his sleep
by the police in chicago, along with Mark Clark, the party leader
from Peoria, Illinois. Their loss is tremendous, but the struggle
goes on. Right?
It's not just a military thing. It's also an educational thing. The
two go hand-in-hand. And it's also a cyclical thing. Right now, we
are in a peak cycle. There's tremendous energy out there, directed
against the state. It's not all focused, but it's there, and it's
building. Maybe this will be sufficient to accomplish what we must
accomplish over the fairly short run. We'll see, and we can certainly
hope that this is the case. But perhaps not. We must be prepared to
wage a long struggle. If this is the case then we'll probably see a
different cycle, one in which the revolutionary energy of the people
seems to have dispersed, run out of steam. But - and this is
important- such cycles are deceptive. Things appear to be at low ebb,
but actually what's happening is a period of regroupment, a period in
which we step back and learn from the mistakes made during the
preceding cycle. We educate ourselves from our experience, and we
educate those around us. And all the while, we develop and perfect
our core organization. Then the next time a peak cycle comes around,
we are far readier then we were the last time. It's a combination of
military and education, always. Ultimately, we will win. You see?
Wald: Do you see signs of progress on the inside, in prison?
Jackson: Yes, I do. Progress is certainly been made in terms of
raising the consciousness of at least some sectors of the prison
population. In part, that's due to the limited victories we've
achieved over the past few years. They're token victories perhaps,
but things we can and must take advantage of. For example, we've
struggled hard around the idea of being able to communicate directly
with people on the outside. At this point, any person on the street
can correspond with any individual inside prison. My suggestion is,
now that we have the channels for education secured, at least
temporarily, is that people on the outside should begin to bombard
the prisons with newspapers, books, journals, clippings, anything of
educational value, to help politicize the comrades who are not yet
relating. And we, of course, must reciprocate by consistently sending
out information concerning what's really going on in here.
Incidentally, interviews like this go a long way in that direction.
There should be much more of this sort of thing.
Wald: You disclosed a few months ago that you had been for some time
a member of the Black Panther Party. Certainly, the work of the party
in this state and elsewhere, the work to free political prisoners,
and of course the party's work within the black community have been
factors which influenced your decision. But has the internationalism
of the Black Party been one of the key aspects which attracted you to
it? And, if this is so, is internationalism meaningful for people in
prison, and is it therefore one reason why they'd relate to the party?
Jackson: Well, let's take it a step at a time. Huey came to the joint
about a year ago because he'd heard stories about the little thing we
had going on already. He talked with us, and checked it out, and he
decided to absorb us. Afterwards, he sent me a message and told me
that. He just told me that I was part of the Party now, and that our
little group was part of the Party as well. And he told me that my
present job is to build, or help build, the prison movement. Just
like that. Like I said, the objective of our movement is to prove the
state can't seal us off in a concentration camp so I accepted. What
else could I do? It was the correct thing. Now, as to your second
point, the people inside the joint, the convict class, have related
to the ideology of the party 100%. And we've moved from... well, not
we, I've always been an internationalist. And a materialist. I guess
I was a materialist before I was born. I'm presently studying Swahili
so that I will be able to converse with the comrades in Africa on
their own terms, without having to rely on a colonial language. And
I've been working on Spanish, which is of course a colonial language,
but which is spoken by millions upon millions of comrades in latin
America and elsewhere. I plan to study Chinese after that, and
possibly Arabic. When I complete this task, I will be able to speak
to something like seventy-five percent of the world's people in their
own tongue or something akin to their own tongue. I think that's important.
The other brothers here are picking up on it. And there are some,
especially those who are already politicized before they came inside,
who are on top of it. But like I said, it's of utmost importance that
people outside bombard this place with material which will help
prisoners understand the importance of internationalism to their
struggle. It's coming, but it's still got a way to go before the
educational process is complete. Ignorance is a terrible thing and
being cut off from the flow of the movement is really detrimental. We
must correct the situation as a first priority.
Wald: Can you receive mail and publications from other countries?
Jackson: Mail can be received from anywhere on the globe. I get stuff
right now from Germany and England and France as a result of the book
being published in these countries. And a few copies of
Tricontinental [a Cuban revolutionary journal] have gotten in.
They've helped broaden the scope, and explained a few things to
comrades that they didn't understand. This is something that really
upsets the goons. In years past, every time a black prisoner would
achieve and intellectual breakthrough and begin to relate our
situation to the situation of the Cubans, say, or the Vietnamese or
the Chinese-or anywhere else in the Third World-well these prisoners
would be quickly assassinated. Now that's become a little harder to
do. So, I believe the people on the street should just start to flood
the prisons with things like Tricontinental.
Wald: Despite a few peaceful victories in Latin America, such as that
of Salvador Allende in Chile, many people still believe that armed
struggle is the only way most Latin American countries are going to
be free. Also, there've been some recent victories in the courts for
members of the Black Panther Party, Los Siete de la Raza [seven
Chicano activists from San Franciscocharged with murder in 1969; they
were acquitted], and so on. Do you believe the victories in Chile and
in the courts...
Jackson: They were appeasement. Allende... the thing that happened
with Allende... look, it was not a "peaceful revolution." That's
deception. Allende is a good man, but what's going on in chile is
just a reflection of the national aspirations of the ruling class.
You will never find a peaceful revolution. Nobody surrenders their
power without resistance. And until the upper class in Chile is
crushed, Allende could at any time be defeated. No revolution can be
consolidated under the conditions that prevail in chile. Blood will
flow down there. Either Allende will shed it in liquidating the
ruling class, or the ruling class will shed his whenever it decides
the time is right. Either way, there's no peaceful
Much the same can be said for the court cases you're talking about.
They're an illusion. Every once in a while the establishment cuts
loose of a case-usually one which was so outrageous to begin with
that they couldn't possibly win it without exposing their whole
system of injustice anyway-and then they trot around babbling about
"proof that the system works," how just and fair it is. They never
mention the fact that the people who were supposed to have received
the justice of the system have often already spent months and months
in lockup, and have been forced to spend thousands of thousands of
dollars, keeping themselves from spending years and years in prison,
before being found innocent. All this to defend themselves against
charges for which there was no basis to begin with, and the state
knew there was no basis. Some system. You get your punishment before
your trial in this country if you happen to be black or brown or
political. But they use these things to say the system works-which I
guess it does, from their perspective-and to build their credibility
for the cases that really count, when they really want to railroad
someone into a prison cell. The solution isn't to learn how to play
the system for occasional "victories" of this order, although I'll
admit these sometimes have a tactical advantage. Winning comes only
in destroying the system itself. We should never be confused on this point.
Wald: but the alternatives sometimes bear dire consequences. This
raises the difficult question of the death of your brother, Jonathon,
and whether his life may to a certain extent have been wasted.
Jackson: Well, that's obviously a tough question for me because,
emotionally, I very much wish my little brother was alive and well.
But as to whether I think Jonathan's life may have been wasted? No, I
don't. I think the only mistake he made was thinking that all of the
200 pigs who were there would have, you know, some sort of concern
for the life of the judge. Of course, they chose to kill the judge,
and to risk killing the D.A. and the jurors, in order to get at
Jonathan and the others. It may have been a technical error. But I
doubt it, because I know Jonathan was very conversant with military
ideas, and I'm sure it occurred to him that there was a possibility
that at least one pig would shoot, and that if one shot, they' all
shoot, and it'd be a massacre. Judge or no judge. It was all a
gigantic bluff, you know? Jonathan took a calculated risk. Some
people say that makes him a fool. I say his was the sort of courage
that cause men of his age to be awarded the Congressional Medal of
Honor in somewhat different settings. The difference is that Jonathan
understood very clearly who his real enemy was; the guy who gets the
congressional medal usually doesn't. Now, who's the fool?
Personally, I bear his loss very badly. It's a great burden upon my
soul. But I think it's imperative - we owe it to him - never to
forget why he did what he did. And that was to stand as a symbol in
front of the people - in front of me - and say in effect that we have
both the capacity and the obligation to stand up, regardless of the
consequences. He was saying that if we all stand up, our collective
power will destroy the forces that oppose us. Jonathan lived by these
principles, he was true to them, he died by them. This is the most
honorable thing imaginable. He achieved a certain deserved
immortality insofar as he truly had the courage to die on his feet
rather than live one moment on his knees. He stood as an example, a
beacon to all of us, and I am in awe of him, even though he was my
Wald: The news today said that Tom Hayden2 declared in front of the
National Student Association Congress that there will be more actions
like the one Jonathon attempted. Do you agree?
Jackson: I've been thinking a lot about the situation. I'm not saying
that these particular tactics-even when successfully
executed-constitute the only valid revolutionary form at this time.
Obviously, they don't. There must also be mass organizing activities,
including large-scale nonviolent demonstrations, education of the
least developed social sectors, and so on. These things are
essential. The revolution must proceed at all levels. But this is
precisely what makes the tactics necessary, and far too many
self-proclaimed revolutionaries have missed the point on this score.
Such tactics as Jonathon employed represent a whole level - an entire
dimension -- of struggle which has almost always been missing from
the so-called American scene. And while it is true that armed
struggle in-and-of-itself can never achieve revolution, neither can
the various other forms of activity. The covert, armed, guerrilla
dimension of the movement fits hand-in-glove with the overt
dimension; the two dimensions can and must be seen as inseparable
aspects of the same phenomenon; neither dimension can succeed without
Viewing things objectively, we can readily determine that the overt
dimension of the movement is relatively well-developed at this time.
Over the past dozen years, we've seen the creation of a vast mass
movement in opposition to the establishment in this country. I won't
go into this in any depth because I'm sure that everyone already
knows what I'm talking about. It should be enough to observe that
within the past two years, the movement has repeatedly shown itself
able to put as many as a million people in the streets at any one
time to express their opposition to the imperialist war in Indochina
[this seems to be a reference to the November 1969 Moratorium to End
the War in Vietnam, staged in Washington, D.C.]. The covert dimension
of the movement is, by comparison, very much retarded at the present
time. In part, this may be due to the very nature of the activity at
issue: guerrillas always begin in terms of very small numbers of
people. But, more to the point, I think the situation is due to there
having been a strong resistance to the whole idea of armed struggle
on the part of much of the movement's supposed
leadership-particularly the white leadership-up to this point. I hear
them arguing-contrary to history, logic, just plain common sense, and
everything else -that armed struggle is unnecessary, even
"counterproductive." I hear them arguing in the most stupidly
misleading fashion imaginable that the overt dimension of the
movement can bring off revolution on its own. This is the sheerest
nonsense, and "leaders" who engage in such a babble should be
discarded without hesitation.
We may advance a simple rule: the likelihood of significant social
change in the United States may be gauged by the extent to which the
covert, armed, guerrilla aspect of the struggle is developed and
consolidated. If the counterrevolutionaries and fools who parade
themselves as leaders while resisting the development of the
movement's armed capacity are overcome-and the struggle is therefore
able to proceed in a proper direction-I think we will see a
revolutionary change in this country rather shortly. If, on the other
hand, this leadership is able to successfully do what amounts to the
work of the state- that is to say, to convince most people to shy
away from armed struggle, and to isolate those who do undertake to
act as guerrillas from the mass of support which should rightly be
theirs - then the revolution will be forestalled. We will have a
situation here much the same as that in Chile, where the
establishment allows a certain quantity of apparent social gains to
be achieved, but stands ready to strip these "gains" away whenever
it's convenient. You can mark my words on this: unless a real
revolution is attained, all that's been gained during the struggles
of the past decade will be lost during the next ten years. It might
not even take that
At the present time, I see a number of very hopeful signs - very
positive indications- that a true revolutionary force is emerging.
Most notably, of course, the direction taken by the Black Panther
Party is correct. But there are many other examples I could name.
Even in the white community, we have seen the development, or at
least the beginnings of the development, of what is necessary with
the establishment of the Weatherman organization. We clearly have a
long way to go, but it's happening, and that's what's important at
the moment. The very fact that Tom Hayden, who is of course a white
radical himself, was willing to make the statement he made, and
before the audience to which he made it, indicates the truth of this.
So, yes, I tend to agree with him and hope we are both correct. Clear enough?
Wald: Yes. Do you see a relationship between what happened at the
Marin County Civic Center, between what Jonathan and the other
brothers did, and the kinds of things that happen in the Third world,
say, in Latin America?
Jackson: Well, of course. Jonathan was a student ... he was a
military-minded brother. He was a student of Che Guevarra (sic) and
Ho, and Giap and Mao, and many others. Tupamaros, Carlos Marighella.
He paid close attention to other established guerrillas, other
established revolutionary societies, revolutionary cultures around
the world. He was very conscious of what was going on in South
America and, well, let's just say that about ninety-nine percent of
our conversation was centered on military things. I knew him well. He
Wald: I was going to ask if the Cuban revolutionaries had a
significance for you and Jonathan in any concrete ways.
Jackson: Hmmmm ... I don't think it did for Jonathan. But it did for
me, because I was in prison. I was just starting my time on this beat
right here when Castro, Che and the rest carried the revolution there
to a successful conclusion. And the alarm that spread throughout the
nation, especially, you know, within the establishment and the
police... well, let's just say that as a newly-made prisoner I
enjoyed that a lot. Someone else's liberation at the establishment's
expense, it was a vicarious boost at a time when I most needed it.
And I've always felt very tenderly toward the Cuban revolution as a result.
Wald: Then you weren't an anti-communist when you came into prison?
Jackson: Oh, I've never been an anti-communist. I suppose you could
say I didn't have much understanding of communism when I came in, and
so I wasn't pro-communist in any meaningful way. But I was never "anti."
Wald: But didn't you initially find it terrible that Cuba had "gone
Jackson: No-no-no! That's what I'm trying to tell you. I'm trying to
get across that I've alays been fundamentally anti-authoritarian.
Communism came later. And when the Cuban revolution happened, the
very fact that it upset the authorities here so bad made me favor it
right off and made me want to investigate it much further. The idea
was that if they don't like it, it must be good. You see? And that's
what led me to seriously study socialism. I owe much of my own
consciousness to the Cuban revolution. But that's me. It doesn't
necessarily pertain to Jonathan. Okay?
Wald: Did the fact that such a tiny country so close to Florida
pulled off a successful revolution give you a sense that, "If they
can do it, we can do it"?
Jackson: Yes, both then and now. It caused me to consider the myth of
invincibility. You know, the idea of U.S. military invincibility was
just completely destroyed by the Cuban revolution. The U.S. supported
Batista with rockets and planes, everything was needed, and he still
lost. He was destroyed by guerrilla warfare, the same thing that's
taking place in Vietnam right now. And the U.S. is losing again. The
Viet Cong, I mean they take these gadgets - the best things the best
military minds in the western world can produce - they take them and
the ball them up and throw them right back in the face of these
imperialist fools. Cuba and now Vietnam; these things catch my
attention. I try to learn the lessons from other peoples' successes.
Now, in that sense I'm sure the Cuban revolution had significance for
Wald: I see our time is almost up. Do you have any last remarks you'd
like to make?
Jackson: Yes, I'd like to say POWER TO THE PEOPLE! And I'd like to
say that by that I mean all power, not just the token sort of power
the establishment is prepared to give us for its own purposes. I'd
like to say that the only way we're ever going to have change is to
have the real power necessary to bring the changes we want into
being. I'd like to say that the establishment is never going to be
persuaded into giving us real power, it's never going to be tricked
into, it's never going to feel guilty and change its ways. The only
way we're ever going get the power we need to change things is by
taking it, over the open, brutal, physical opposition of the
establishment. I'd like to say we must use, as Malcolm X put it, any
means necessary to take power. I'd like to say that we really have no
alternatives in the matter, and that it's ridiculous or worse to
think that we do. That's what I'd like to say.
1. Editor's note: True to Jackson's prediction, the Chilean military
- in combination with the CIA, Kissinger's State Department, and
transnational corporations (notably ITT and anaconda)- brought down
the Allende government in September of 1973. More than 30,000
progressives and Allende himself were killed during the coup and the
following three years. Many thousands more were driven into permanent
exile. The Chilean people have been saddled with the neo-fascist
regime of Colonel Augusto Pinochet ever since. Although demonstration
elections did take place in 1989, Pinochet still remains in charge of
2. Editor's note: This was the period before he totally sold
3. Editor's note: Actually, it was a bit longer; the Reagan
administration of the 80s was required to validate Jackson's
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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