Monday, August 21, 2006

Walter Rodney Tribute to George Jackson: Black Revolutionary

George Jackson: Black Revolutionary

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.

Go Buy Books by Comrade George Jackson:
Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson (1970) ISBN 1556522304
Blood In My Eye (1971) ISBN 0933121237
"Now is the time for us to come together with one another, to organize, to speak out and speak up on behalf of each other. There is no time to waste, while we debate, define, and discuss; the enemy continues his genocidal plan. We need to bear in mind the Ashanti proverb: 'Two men in a burning house must not stop to argue.' " - Dr. Mutulu Shakur


Assata Shakur Forum -
FTP Movement -

1 comment:

Pan-African News Wire said...

Walter Rodney's Guyana Years
His 1974 return and immediate impact

By David Hinds
Originally Published on Sunday, May 29th 2005

Walter Rodney's impact on Guyana's politics and society can be divided into three broad periods: 1974-78 when he worked tirelessly to mobilize, educate and inspire the Guyanese people towards a new political culture; 1979-80, the last year of his life, when he led a mass rebellion that transformed the political landscape and almost toppled the government; and 1980-92; when the movement that he inspired continued to utilize his ideas to bring about the demise of the authoritarian regime.

When Rodney returned to Guyana in 1974 he had already developed a reputation as a radical scholar-revolutionary. After being banned from Jamaica in 1968 for his "radical activities," he left for Tanzania where he continued to be critical of neo-colonialism in the Third World. He had decided to return to Guyana partly because he wanted to practically contribute to the struggle of the oppressed, to give life to what he had been preaching in a space in which he could not be deemed an outsider. So he himself may have been surprised when in 1974, the University of Guyana's academic board decision to appoint him as head of the History department was overturned by the PNC-controlled University Council. Writing on Rodney in the Catholic Standard in 1988, Eusi Kwayana says that Hamilton Greene, a top government functionary, actually moved the motion to rescind the appointment on the grounds that Rodney was a security risk.

The African Society for Cultural Relations with Independent Africa (ASCRIA), an Africanist organization headed by Eusi Kwayana, one of the leaders of the independence movement, responded by organizing a protest which took the form of mass rallies held mainly in Georgetown and on the East Coast Demerara in October-November 1974. Rupert Roopnaraine in an interview on CaribNation TV in November 1998, correctly asserts that Walter Rodney "before he set his foot in Guyana was a force for unity."

ASCRIA invited most of the opposition parties and pressure groups along with noted individuals to participate in the protest. Kwayana (1988) confirms that although all groups were welcome, particular efforts were made to enlist the participation of the Indian dominated People's Progressive Party (PPP) to give the protest a multiracial character. The first rally, held in Georgetown on October 5, drew a crowd estimated at 3,000 while the others ranged from 500 to 2,000 participants. Kwayana quotes others as saying: "It was like 1953 both in size and multiracial composition," a reference to the multiracial PPP that captured the imagination of the multiracial masses and swept the polls of that year.

Obviously surprised by the large crowds and the multiracial nature of the rallies, the PNC responded by attempting to physically prevent them from taking place. Its activists heckled the speakers and engaged in confrontations with sections of the audiences. Particular attention was paid to the fact that Cheddi Jagan, the PPP leader, and Kwayana were appearing on the same platform for the first time in two decades. Kwayana confirms that the PNC was taken by surprise.

"Its thugs were unprepared for this public response and had to confine themselves to heckling with racist jibes at the fact that Cheddi Jagan and I had appeared on the same platform after about 21 years - with the exception of a single meeting in 1968 protesting the banning of C Y Thomas from Jamaica.

Rodney, from 1974 until his untimely assassination in 1980, became a pivotal force in the country's politics. When he returned to Guyana in 1974 the country was at a critical juncture. First, the ruling Peoples National Congress (PNC) had just instituted its 'Declaration of Sophia,' which declared the PNC party paramount to the state. This declaration marked the culmination of a decade of transition from a liberal authoritarian political order left by the British to a more dictatorial authoritarianism achieved largely through rigged elections and the undermining of civil liberties. The USA's Cold War policy of keeping communist parties such as the opposition Peoples' Progressive Party (PPP) out of power was also a major contributor to the PNC's ability to consolidate power.

Second, while there was opposition to the PNC, it was fragmented along racial and ideological lines. The PPP, a communist party with an Indian base, opposed the PNC from the left but could not find common ground with either the other African left-wing groups largely for racial reasons, or the conservative groups for ideological reasons. Since the government did not face a united opposition movement, it was able to consolidate its hold on power with relative ease.

Third, the country's racial polarization meant that the PNC was generally able to hold on to the support and loyalty of its African-Guyanese base, despite the government's anti-people policies. This African Guyanese support was crucial in affording the PNC government some degree of legitimacy.

It was in this atmosphere that Rodney decided to stay in Guyana despite the denial of employment. While the protest organized by ASCRIA did not force the government to overturn its decision, it marked the birth of a significant period in Guyana's politics. First, it provided the opportunity for those dissatisfied with the government's growing authoritarianism to openly demonstrate their disapproval. Significantly it was the first time that African Guyanese in the capital city, Georgetown, had taken part in any large-scale protest against the PNC.

Second, it took to a higher level the Indian-African solidarity that was first demonstrated during the Land for the Landless campaign organized in 1973 by ASCRIA and supported by the Indian Revolutionary People's Associates (IPRA), led by Moses Bhagwan.

Third, the protest was the prelude to the announcement in November 1974 of the formation of the Working People's Alliance which served as Rodney's organizational base and a potent medium for the transformation of the country's politics.

Finally, it encouraged Rodney to remain in Guyana. According to him in an interview with Colin Prescod published in Race and Class, 1976, "Partly I wish to remain as a matter of personal preference, to be here with my family and friends, and partly because my situation is not unique. It is part of a very widespread economic victimization, which has developed in Guyana."

His presence was to have a tremendous influence on the resistance to authoritarian rule in particular and the country's politics in general over the next six years. He became, as Kwayana observes, the one "chosen by the people, in spite of himself and his philosophy, to lead the struggle against the dictatorship."

Elaborating on his personal role in a 1980 interview with Margaret Arkinhurst, Rodney observed: "In my own career I have had tremendous good fortune to be exposed to people's struggles in the rest of the Caribbean, particularly in Jamaica, to see Black people struggle in Britain against racism, to participate by proxy and sometimes coming in occasionally with the struggles of Black people in the US in having a very meaningful experience in knowing what it is like to combat imperialism and racism in Southern Africa starting from the Tanzanian base, which, for many years, has been the headquarters of the struggle in Southern Africa.

I think I have benefited enormously from those experiences, and in some way or other, I have to try to regenerate that experience with what is happening in Guyana. It doesn't do the Guyanese people any good if that's simply locked away as an element of my own personal development, and I might begin to question myself and doubt my own conclusions and my credibility if, in a situation which requires a certain type of action, it is dictated logically by a mode of analysis and I shirk from that action."

Why did Rodney instantly connect with the people?

The answer lies partly in the fact that he had already in his short life acquired international fame as a first-rate scholar. His book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa had revolutionized the study of African history and society.

Second, at a time when the peoples of the formerly colonized world, especially in Africa and the Caribbean, were coming to the realization that political independence had not fulfilled the promise of liberation, Rodney's stand on their side, his belief that another world was possible and his commitment to fight for it differentiated him from most of the educated class.

Third, Rodney was returning to a Guyana that, despite the deep racial cleavages, was beginning to grapple with the question of its racial division. Eusi Kwayana's break with the PNC in 1971 had brought to the fore the class contradictions within the African Guyanese community and opened the door for solidarity across racial lines. When he and ASCRIA sought common ground with Moses Bhagwan's IPRA in the form of the Land for the Landless campaign in 1973, it became clear that racial unity was possible. The early foundation of Rodney's platform was thus created before he returned.

Kwayana perhaps best sums up the reason for Rodney's almost instant impact in Guyana; he locates it in what he calls "the consciousness of the working people and marginally to that of other social groups which play and have always played a key role in the forward movement in our countries." He elaborates on this theme:

"There has always been something in the Guyanese understanding of life that responds to outstanding scholars.

This is true of most formative economies. There is particularly an even stronger something that responds to the victim of oppression. When outstanding scholarship and victim are both combined in the same person, the size and weight of the response rise accordingly. This was the case with Walter Rodney."