50 Years Ago: Black liberation – George Jackson and political violence

George Jackson’s crime was not that he complied in the theft of 70 dollars, but that in prison he could not accept the ignominious terms on which the authorities might have released him. For this crime he was imprisoned for eleven years, seven-and-a-half in solitary confinement, and eventually in August 1971, shot to death.

In prison, in spite of the limitations of his personal background, Jackson began to read seriously, gradually seeking an explanation for the forces, social and historical, underlying his plight. Eventually, he devoured such left-wing and Marxist literature as he could get hold of. Jackson did not become a Socialist. It is doubtful whether his views would fit neatly into any political category. He became an inspiration to the civil rights movement in America, and also to the Black Power movement. Although there is much that is perceptive in Jackson’s views as expressed in The Prison Letters of George Jackson, his understanding of economic relationships and social and political institutions, fall short of a Socialist understanding. If George Jackson was anything, he was a black nihilist.

Jackson claimed to be opposed to capitalism. “The principal enemy must be isolated and identified as capitalism. Our enemy at present is the capitalist system and its supporters.” However, closer analysis would show that in fact what Jackson was opposed to was American-style private enterprise. Jackson sympathized with China and the emerging African states. So he ignored the fact that capitalism is a world mode of production where the means of wealth production are monopolized and controlled either by private owners or a political bureaucratic élite. (…)

Jackson considered that political democracy was a fraud. “Of what value is quasi-political control if the capitalists are allowed to hold on to the people’s whole mode of subsistence?” He believed in leadership and elevated violence. “The people who run this country will never let us succeed to power. Everything in history that was of any value was taken by force.”

There is no doubt that if in some time of crisis Jackson’s views on leadership and violence became practical action, this would lead to disaster. It would compound crisis with death and violence with no possible hope of getting anywhere towards Socialism.

(Socialist Standard, May 1973)

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