Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of
Reprinted from MIM Notes 48, January 1991
George Jackson's letters to his family, friends and legal counsel are uplifting writings, the words of a prisoner who would not compromise with the authorities because he knew it would do no good. Jackson's letters affirm the need to study political economy to build revolution while conveying the repression of solitary confinement and 23-hour-a-day lockdown.
The strength of this collection, edited by Jean Genet, is its analysis of capitalism as the enemy. It is also a story of Jackson's transformation from lumpenproletariat to Black revolutionary nationalist. The weaknesses are Jackson's bad line on women - whom he criticizes as counterrevolutionary - and his focoist tendency to believe that the gun can liberate the Black colony at once, regardless of the level of organization among the masses or other historical conditions.
The first part of the book, mostly letters to this mother and father, is not very political. Jackson uses many sexist stereotypes in this section, often to criticize his mother for failing in his brother's and his own education. He says, for example, that unmarried white women are left to become prostitutes, nuns and lesbians (p. 45). While it is true that economic forces put more pressure on unmarried women (the fastest growing population in poverty are women and children), Jackson's stereotype is homophobic and derogatory.
Much of what could be criticized as sexist in Jackson's writing is left as ambiguous. He says that "The white theory of 'the emancipated woman' is a false idea" (p. 46), which is an economic reality of Amerikan capitalism, but no context is given. To his credit he does explain that Black women are the backbone of the family (p. 74).
Jackson's analysis of non-violence is right on. The reality of prison life shows non-violence for what it is--a privilege for those who command the power of the law on their side.
"The concept of nonviolence is a false ideal," says Jackson in criticizing Martin Luther King, Jr., the Black leader who lead much of the Civil Rights Movement around desegregation. "It presupposes the existence of compassion and a sense of justice on the part of one's adversary. When this adversary has everything to lose and nothing to gain by exercising justice and compassion, his reaction can only be negative" (p. 128).
Jackson saw the limitations of non-violent protest in the internationalist terms of the struggles in Vietnam and the Philippines (p. 166). Still, this criticism could not be mistaken for a mindless acceptance of violence as a tactic: "It may serve our purpose to claim nonviolence, but we must never delude ourselves into thinking that we can seize power from a position of weakness, with half measures, polite programs, righteous indignation, loud entreaties" (p. 167).
Jackson knew that study was key to advancing the national revolution and that without advanced theory the revolutionary army he envisioned would be led down a blind alley.
"To seize power for the people and relegate fascism to the history books the vanguard must change the basic patterns of thought. We are going to have to study the principles of people's movements. We are going to have to study them where they took place and interpret them to fit our situation here. We have yet to discover the meaning of people's war, people's army" (p. 168).
The biggest weakness in Jackson's letters is his fondness for the focoist revolutionary model, in which a small group sparks the masses to rebel through an armed action. Jackson identifies himself with Ernesto Che Geuvarra, the Cuban focoist who fought the Cuban Revolution with Fidel Castro. Jackson is also a fan of Franz Fanon, who believed that armed struggle itself creates a revolutionary transformation. Jackson mentions many revolutionaries in his letters, but he is not advocating Marxism-Leninism-Maoism as the way forward.
In a letter to Angela Davis, Jackson suggests his program for an "antiestablishment war." This involves getting some money (unspecified means), opening "as many skeet, trap, rifle, and pistol ranges as I could rent space for around the black community," beginning martial arts training and publishing propaganda on military strategy. All this would be done, in Jackson's words, "without a hint of political flavoring" (p. 223).
Jackson relies on the idea that an armed action, not political struggle, will create revolutionaries and bring the revolution. He concludes this section saying "'One doesn't wait for all conditions to be right to start the revolution, the forces of the revolution itself will make the conditions right.' Che said something like this" (p. 223).
MIM suggests that people read George Jackson as a strong case for liberation of the Black colony within the United States. Jackson supports self-determination and Black liberation to the end and was a strong ally of the international proletariat.
[* This section titled "Women" was in the original review of this book printed in MIM Notes 48, January 1991. When the etext website was archived, this section was not included on the web version, so we re-added this section to the web version. - MIM(Prisons) 2017]
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