George Jackson: Legacy of a Black Communist

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George Jackson 1941 – 1971

‘The monster they’ve engendered in me will return to torment its maker, from  the grave, the pit, the profoundest pit. Hurl me into the next existence, the descent into hell won’t turn me. I’ll crawl back to dog his trail forever. They won’t defeat my revenge, never, never. I’m part of a righteous people who anger slowly, but rage undammed. We’ll gather at his door in such a number that the rumbling of our feet will make the earth tremble.’

George Jackson was an Afro-American working class communist. Born in a Chicago ghetto in 1941 he was murdered by warders in San Quentin Prison in 1971. At 18 he was sentenced from one year to life for the theft of $70. He spent the rest of his life in prison. There ‘I met Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Engels, and Mao…and they redeemed me.’ In prison he also joined the Black Panther Party. One year before his death, the police murdered his 17-year-old brother Jonathon who, single handed and armed, invaded San Rafael Courthouse to free three black comrades. EDDIE ABRAHAMS and CAT WEINER chart George Jackson’s contribution as a revolutionary.

Harassed and brutalised in prison, Jackson witnessed the black risings of the 1960s, the police massacre of the Black Panther leadership, the US bombing of Vietnam, the silence of the US labour movement and the resistance of the oppressed across the world. Out of this experience he produced Soledad Brother (SB) and Blood in My Eye (BIME). These works, fired by a passionate and poetic imagination, constitute a treasury of revolutionary thought. They chart his development on major issues of revolution. For example, on the question of women he moved from seeing women as inferior, as obstacles to struggle, to recognising their role as ‘the very same as the man’s…The differences we see in bourgeois society are all conditioned and artificial.’

George Jackson lived and died for the liberation of humanity from imperialism, capitalism and racism:

Black, brown and white are victims together. At the end of this massive collective struggle, we will uncover our new man…He will be better equipped to wage the real struggle, the permanent struggle after the revolution – the one for new relationships between men. BIME p105

The outstanding legacy of this communist fighter has been forgotten, buried by those who dread his uncompromising commitment to socialist revolution as a necessary condition for liberation from exploitation and racism. He understood with greater clarity than most the relentless savagery of imperialism and the absolute necessity of revolutionary force and violence to destroy it. His communist approach to the question of racism and his recognition of the vanguard role of the black working class places him head and shoulders above those leaders who espouse nationalist, separatist or pro-capitalist programmes. In the wake of the April/May risings in Los Angeles, it is therefore appropriate to restate his message.

Capitalism, black oppression and the black working class

The starting point of all George Jackson’s thought is that the capitalist system is at the root of racism, poverty, unemployment and oppression. The particular oppression of the black working class is traced from the US Civil War when the form of black slavery changed:

from chattel to economic slavery, and we were thrown on the labour market to compete at a disadvantage with poor whites. SB p206

This was marked by ‘massive unemployment and underemployment’. It created the ‘black colonies inside the Amerikan fascist state’ which became ‘secondary markets and sources of cheap raw materials…our bodies’.

The impoverishment and oppression of the black working class derives directly from capitalist production:

It was the profit motive that built the tenement and the city project. Profit and loss prevent repairs and maintenance. Free enterprise brought the monopolistic chain store to the neighbourhood. The concept of private ownership of facilities that people need to exist brought the legions of hip-shooting, brainless pigs down upon our head, our homes, our streets. They’re there to protect the entrepreneurs!!, his chain store and his property that you are renting, his bank! SB p207

Racism and oppression ‘is a fundamental characteristic’ of capitalism. Capitalism cannot ‘meet the people’s needs.’

Monopoly capital is the enemy. It crushes the life force of all the people. It must be completely destroyed, as quickly as possible, utterly, totally ruthlessly, relentlessly destroyed. BIME p102

Imperialism and the US working class

However, in order to destroy this ‘monster’, the US working class cannot rely on the traditional US labour movement. Jackson understood that the US ruling class has been able to ‘co-opt’ and ‘neutralise’ large sections of the white working class. Imperialism has made ‘concessions’:

to the degenerate sections of the working class, with the aim of creating a buffer zone between the ruling class and the still potentially revolutionary segments of the lower classes. BIME p111

The basis for such concessions is the US’s racist plunder of oppressed people at home and abroad. US imperialism rests ‘on the misery and discomfort of the world’ and its wealth, prosperity and ‘progressive reforms’ are made at the expense of the rest of us and the world’s peoples’. As a result the ‘huge mass of blue collar workers…support a system owned and controlled by a tiny minority’. They are exploited, but they identify with:

the white hierarchy [because of]…their economic advantage over the oppressed races. The may be oppressed themselves, but in return they are allowed to oppress millions of others. BIME p163

Thus imperialism has been able to ‘merge the economic, political and labour elites’ into ‘the greatest (reactionary) community of self-interest that has ever existed.’ This in Jackson’s view was a fascist system and provided the foundation for US imperialism’s world plunder.

Many a ‘Marxist’ unable to differentiate between essence and appearence has dismissed Jackson’s views because he describes the alliance between the ruling class and the labour aristocracy as fascist. Whilst the term may not be orthodox, the essence of his analysis cannot be disputed. It has repeatedly been confirmed by the US labour movement’s pro-imperialist and racist stand. In addition, serious socialists would note that while bourgeois democracy, not fascism, existed for the mass of the white working class, for the oppressed internationally the bourgeois order is maintained with guns, prisons, murder and war, not democracy.

The role of the black working class

George Jackson’s grasp of the counter-revolutionary role of the official US labour movement marked him off from the ‘old left’. US communists, he argued, needed to develop a new strategy which acknowledged the fact that the ‘segments of the lower classes’ – primarily the black working class – constituted the revolutionary vanguard of the whole working class, not the official labour movement:

The principal reservoir of revolutionary potential in Amerika lies in wait inside the Black Colony. Its sheer numerical strength, it desperate historical relation to the violence of the productive system, and the fact of its present status in the creation of wealth force the black stratum at the base of the whole class structure into the forefront of any revolutionary movement. BIME p25

Despite his detractors, he did not dismiss the whole working class or argue that the black working class could make the revolution alone. He merely insisted on its leading role:

The impact of black revolutionary rage could carry at the least the opening stages of a socialist revolution – under certain circumstances – not discounting some of the complexities created by the spectre of racism. BIME p25

Indeed he argued for the unity of the black and white workers on a principled anti-racist, anti-imperialist basis. In his fight for socialism and working class unity he opposed black separatism and nationalism. Commenting on Malcolm X’s move away from nationalism he notes:

You remember what was on his lips when he died. Vietnam and economics, political economy. The professional killers could have murdered him long before they did. They let Malcolm rage on Muslim nationalism for a number of years because they knew it was an empty ideal, but the second he got his feet on the ground, they murdered him. SB p271

He had contempt for black separatists who ‘attack the white left…who want to help us destroy fascism.’ They used ‘the tactic of (attacking) “white left-wing causes” to protect the bosses’ “white right-wing causes” ‘. They are ‘as much part of the repression, even more than the real-life rat-informant pig’.

Imperialism and internationalism

For George Jackson, the struggle for socialism was an international struggle. Among the oppressed worldwide:

The common bond will be the desire to humble the oppressor, the need to destroy capitalist man and his terrible, ugly machine. SB p232

This internationalism has a material basis. Reminiscent of Marx, Jackson notes:

It isn’t just a matter of trusting the goodwill of other slaves and other colonies and other peoples. It is simply a matter of common need. We need allies; we have a powerful enemy who cannot be defeated without an allied effort. SB p233

Within the international revolutionary movement, the communist vanguard in the US had very special duties:

The entire colonial world is watching the blacks in the USA…Their problems and struggles with the Amerikan monster are much more difficult than they would be if we actively aided them. We are on the inside. We are the only ones (beside the very small white minority left) who can get at the monster’s heart without subjecting the world to a nuclear fire. SB p235

The question of force, violence and the armed struggle

Unifying all his thought was George Jackson’s unbending and categorical insistence on the necessity of deploying revolutionary force and violence in opposition to the terror of imperialism. He warned that:

If today’s young revolutionary vanguard…seriously intends to step out front and take the monster to task they should understand from the outset that the monster is merciless.

Indeed within the US:

At the instant a black head rises out of our crisis existence, it is lopped off and hung from the highest courthouse or newspaper firm. SB p216

He concluded therefore that ‘class struggle means the suppression of the opposing class’ and the destruction of ‘the enemy capitalist state’. And:

If terror is going to be a choice of weapons, there must be funerals on both sides.

BIME p26

Many criticised George Jackson’s insistence on the necessity of revolutionary force and violence. These fools do not account for the reality of imperialism and have grotesque illusions in its democratic proclamations. Jackson rightly had none. In the 20 years since his death, the history of imperialism has been one of the most bloody and brutal slaughter – Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Palestine, Ireland, Grenada, Panama, the Gulf, Afghanistan and elsewhere – in defence of capital and profits.

Criticising the pacifism of Martin Luther King (while respecting his sincerity – he was ‘too innocent, too cultured, too civil for these times’) Jackson noted that:

Any claims that non-violent, purely non-violent political agitation has served to force back the legions of capitalist expansion are false. SB p195

and that:

There is no case of a successful liberation without violence. How could you neutralise an army without violence? SB p196

Applying these principles to the movement of his day, Jackson advocated the systematic organisation of armed struggle in tandem with the political struggle in the USA. Gunned down in prison he was never able to test and develop his theories in the context of the real class struggle.

He was however no militarist, no glorifier of the armed struggle for its own sake. The armed struggle was a defensive tactic forced on the oppressed. Furthermore the necessary form of revolutionary force is changeable and dependent on circumstances and:

circumstances change in time and space, that there can be nothing dogmatic about revolutionary theory. It is to be born out of each popular struggle. Each popular struggle must be analysed to discover new ideas. BIME p27

In today’s ‘new world order’ of intensified imperialist militarism, violence and racism George Jackson’s legacy is more relevant and persuasive than ever. A new communist movement will decide itself what form revolutionary force must take. But in doing so it will utilise the essence of the message: if the working class fails to meet force with force, bourgeois dictatorship with proletarian dictatorship, it has no future.

FRFI 132 August / September 1996