by Danny Haiphong
George Jackson was a giant that U.S. State could not contain – so it killed him. “It was Jackson who developed a foundational theory of the prison state in relationship to the design of the imperialist system.” Jackson said revolutionary movements require three elements: “an above ground organization that carries out political work, an independent media, and an underground organization committed to creating crises for the establishment.”
Why George Jackson Matters Through the Lens of Blood in My Eye
by Danny Haiphong
“For Jackson, the revolutionary task was to develop soldiers for freedom, while ‘Amerikans’ are at any given moment subject to performing duties as soldiers for Empire.”
Right before I left college, I wrote an essay on the political relationship between George Lester Jackson and the first revolutionary president of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh. The paper compared the works of the two to prove that the language of revolution is global and that solidarity against imperialism extends continents. George Jackson spent ten years behind prison walls from 1961-1971. During this period, Jackson became a revolutionary warrior for Black liberation and socialist revolution. Black August has given way to September, but George Jackson's life matters now more than ever as the struggle against imperialism marches on.
Jackson was a Black American from Chicago, but his rebellious spirit and run-ins with police compelled his parents to move to the West coast. Soon after moving, Jackson was charged for robbing a gas station in Los Angeles, California. Despite evidence of his innocence, the court encouraged Jackson to take a plea deal. The court rewarded Jackson with an indeterminate sentence of one year to life. But what transpired after was the ruling system's worst nightmare. Jackson became a committed revolutionary and student of the ideas of Marx, Lenin, Mao and Black revolutionaries from Malcolm X to Kwame Nkrumah. He practiced these revolutionary ideas by organizing Chicano, white, and Black prisoners against the repression and exploitation experienced behind prison walls.
What made George Jackson a threat to the imperialist establishment was his ability to organize prisoners for the revolutionary cause. His seminal manifesto Blood in My Eye is both a theoretical analysis of the ruling imperialist system and a strategy for liberation from a Black communist perspective. Jackson's revolutionary transformation came with consequences. He spent over seven of his ten years in prison in solitary confinement, which included extensive time in the infamous “O” wing where prisoners were forced to sleep and eat in their own filth for 23.5 hours per day.
“Jackson became a committed revolutionary and student of the ideas of Marx, Lenin, Mao and Black revolutionaries from Malcolm X to Kwame Nkrumah.”
While in prison, Jackson was sentenced to death in 1970 after the state framed him for the murder of a prison guard. This was in supposed retaliation to the guard-induced murder of brawling inmates inside of Soledad prison just days prior. Prison officials accused Jackson of the retaliation because he was deemed “the only one who would do it.” Jackson's case received international attention. Revolutionary organizations, such as the Black Panther Party, came to his defense. His case inspired his 17-year old brother, Jonathan Jackson, to free the "Soledad Brothers" by storming the Marin County Courtroom and kidnapping the judge and his aids. Jonathan Jackson was killed in the event, but his actions helped strengthen the Black liberation movement by bringing numerous supporters to the growing prison movement.
George Jackson placed his murdered brother in the same vein as Che Guevara. Furthermore, Jackson's last words before being assassinated in 1971 were "the Dragon has come." This is a reference to Ho Chi Minh's poem wordplay, which states, "When the prison gates are opened, the real dragon will fly out." These words indicate that Jackson was an internationalist who drew from the global struggle against imperialism for inspiration in the fight against the US ruling class within what he called the "Amerikan monster." He discredited Black organizations and leaders who attacked socialism as a white idea when Vietnam, Cuba, Algeria and nations all over the world were fighting for a socialist system. Blood in My Eye is a call to join the world in the war against US imperialism. It builds on Malcolm X's belief that revolution in the US is dependent upon solidarity and support from the world’s people and vice versa.
The same US imperialist system George Jackson broke down in Blood in My Eye remains dominant throughout the world, but with riper conditions to spread its misery. Black America is in a worse economic state than it was in during Jackson's period and so too is the state of the entire working class. The Mass Black Incarceration State has since been erected to lock poor Black Americans away from a capitalist economy that no longer needs their labor and at the same time repress the potential development of Black revolutionary activity against the State. It was George Jackson who developed a foundational theory of the prison state in relationship to the design of the imperialist system.
He succinctly summarized the purpose of the Mass Black Incarceration State in Blood in My Eye as such, "The ultimate expression of law is not order – it's prison . . . the law and everything that interlocks with it was constructed for poor disparate people like me." George Jackson traced the development of the Mass Black Incarceration State to the US government war on the Black Panther Party, which Jackson joined while in prison. Jackson's analysis was informed by the brutal repression he and the Panthers faced at the high tide of the Black Liberation Movement. It was also solidified by what he saw from directly behind the walls as the changing character of US prisons into an institution specially made for Black people. The struggle against police brutality and the prison state today has much to learn from George Jackson's analysis.
“Jackson's analysis was informed by the brutal repression he and the Panthers faced at the high tide of the Black Liberation Movement.”
I have often drawn from George Jackson in my articles, but no amount of brief citations or singular articles can do his political contribution justice. His internationalism is critical in this current period of never-ending war waged all over the world by US imperialism. He draws on the best of Malcolm X in his sharp critiques of the bankrupt left and Black opportunists that would become the Black misleadership class. And his tireless study of history should be emulated by all self-identified freedom fighters. For example, Blood in My Eye provides a historical materialist analysis of fascism's development in Europe and its application to US imperial development in the post-World War II period. We must seek to understand this period of history in the same manner that Jackson sought to understand the conditions of his own historical experience.
But perhaps the greatest gift Jackson gave to the struggle for liberation was his deep knowledge of strategy and organization. Throughout Blood in My Eye, one can find entire sections dedicated to urban guerrilla warfare and political organization. Jackson concluded that a revolutionary movement required three elements: an above ground organization that carries out political work, an independent media, and an underground organization committed to creating crises for the establishment. He further emphasized the necessity of ideology and demands. According to Jackson, without either, those attracted to the struggle for justice will merely become "Amerikans" again after each demonstration, protest, or political activity. For Jackson, the revolutionary task was to develop soldiers for freedom, while "Amerikans" are at any given moment subject to performing duties as soldiers for Empire.
Jackson's organizational skill and revolutionary ideology inspired the insurgent prison movement of the 60's and 70's. When Jackson was murdered, Attica prisoners fasted in tribute to his life. A week later, they waged a heroic rebellion for dignity behind the walls and were subsequently massacred by the state. This is popularly known as the Attica Rebellion. That was then, this is now. Most who reside in the US have never heard of George Jackson. His work has been repressed by imperialism along with the ideas that his struggle represents.
“His internationalism is critical in this current period of never-ending war waged all over the world by US imperialism.”
Current conditions within the US certainly reflect much of what Jackson wrote in his essay "After the Revolution Has Failed." In this chapter, Jackson concludes that a combination of reform and repression set back the revolutionary struggle against imperialism. His analysis remains important today. Rapid technological changes, austerity, mass surveillance, and the institution of a "volunteer" army have taken their toll on people's consciousness. These are but a few changes that arose in concert with the growth of a labor and Black misleadership class to blunt the revolutionary consciousness of oppressed classes in the US. As developments such as Black Lives Matter continue to form an identity under the conditions of 21st century imperialism, a return to the works of George Jackson offers a critical lesson on the importance of political consciousness in the fight for a new world. As Jackson notes, “We are faced with the task of a raising a positive mobilization of revolutionary consciousness in a mass that has ‘gone through’ a contra-positive, authoritarian process.”
George Jackson's corpse was thrown on top of 99 books that resided in his cell directly after his assassination. His deep knowledge of history and theory helped him pioneer the first theoretical framework of the Mass Black Incarceration State. Jackson also made critical contributions to revolutionary strategy in his analysis of guerrilla warfare and political organization. One of his most important contributions to the struggle today is the work he put in to build unity among the oppressed and clarity on the character of the oppressor state. Although much has changed since his death and revolution seems remote, imperialism is currently in its most vulnerable stage. Global forces are truly moving away from imperialist hegemony and capitalism’s periodic crises have become more common and acute. We must introduce revolutionaries such as George Jackson in any conversation about building a radical movement in this time so that more like him can develop in the flesh. George Jackson's life truly matters.
Danny Haiphong is an organizer for Fight Imperialism Stand Together (FIST) in Boston. He is also a regular contributor to Black Agenda Report. Danny can be reached at [email protected] and FIST can be reached at [email protected]m
1. Jackson, George 1971. Bloody in My Eye. This book is used as the source of Jackson’s ideas in this piece.