George Jackson. Photo credit: The African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS)
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The real dragon: George Jackson and the Black August tradition

Black August honours the tradition of the black liberation struggle, especially the Soledad Brother George Jackson and his comrades who became revolutionaries in the penal system of America. Jackson was a guiding theorist of the Black Panthers and worldwide communism. Here the essay extends to honour and remind us all of other revolutionary ancestors.

“I don’t want to die and leave a few sad songs and a hump in the ground as my only monument. I want to leave a world that is liberated from trash, pollution, racism, nation-states, nation-state wars and armies, from pomp, bigotry, parochialism, a thousand different brands of untruth and licentious, usurious economics.”

 George Jackson 

The dragon never physically flew out, but his thoughts, writings, and practice encircled the black globe in the fire-spitting style of a true and living dragon — the metaphor gains sharpness the deeper we delve in the many variants of the lives and afterlives of the man. George Jackson was the compañero who wasn’t afraid; a righteous brother who frightened and shook the empire whiles locked up in her deadly dungeons for all his adult life. What conditions create a man so beautiful, cold, calculated, and brilliant as George? Why was the system so afraid of a young black brother such as this? Why did he stand out and continue to do so after all this time? To look at George’s life is to see a body in motion, racked with questions of the impossible and a near denial that such a man really did walk amongst us; nay, caged amongst us.

Studying the life and times of brother George is to come to certain hard conclusions that are ever necessary in the grand scheme of things. It is to look at the prison system that kept him captive and see a slave plantation whose abolition has become an ever-important need in the age of mass-incarceration of black and African people in the US settler colony. The criminalisation of black existence and the glaring contradictions of the capitalist dystopia as African lives continue to be in primitive accumulation. It is to see the enduring human spirit, despite captivity and slavery, flourishing and blossoming and yearning for nothing short of liberation and the human right to dignity. His life speaks across the times in a transhistorical encounter with our times when so many like him continue to suffer the privation of white supremacy and commodification of the human being.

At a personal, intimate level, to look at his life is to see a studious, steadfast and consistent life given to the liberation of black people, and all toiling people, under the yoke of capitalism-imperialism. A life lived in love of the people — a true ox for the people to ride. He laid no claims to grandeur or greatness, his preoccupation was with how we get free! How can the unconsoled be consoled and the last become first. But George comes from a tradition, a living lineage that inspired his whole life as a revolutionary black man in the hellhole of the imperial state. For we recognize that the individual is a social being who’s becoming and fullness is only realized through the people. He knew this too, hence his constant emphasis on taking Revolution back to the masses; the sufferer, the fella, the captured and the odds job man.

Black August started as a commemoration of George’s defiant spirit, but more than that, it is testimony to that radical, revolutionary tradition that never quenches. The August of our lives as a global African humanity stretches back to Touissant and the Haitian Revolution, Nat Turner’s Rebellion, the birth of Garvey and Fred Hampton and many many more. August is indeed very august and replete with our glorious struggles for liberation and self-determination. In connecting George Jackson to this living and breathing tradition, we honour him truly as he would have wanted to be. Constantly in his letters we are reminded that he is with the progressive forces of the African world, that his sustained inspiration came from giants of the struggle the likes of Kwame Nkrumah, Lumumba, Fanon, etc. What this means for us today is to go back to that source from whence he was drinking from and deduce lessons and learnings in advancing this unfinished project of national liberation.

Nkrumah, like many others from his time, emphasised in no uncertain terms the need for African unification under scientific socialism. This is an integral part of the tradition we have inherited today and is linked intimately with the just and righteous struggles of black people in America. The home of black people in the diaspora and at home remains in Africa, and until such a time when this homeland of blackness is liberated and free from the machinations of domination, black people everywhere will be powerless, disrespected, and oppressed at will. And today, as Africa grapples with failed neocolonial states, black people continue to be the skunk of the planet wherever you might go around the world.

This then calls for a shared internationalism that is grounded foremost in revolutionary Pan-Africanism in the continuity provided to us by the likes of Kwame Ture and the All African People’s Revolutionary Party. In times gone by, in the callings of Marcus Garvey and UNIA to rally Africans all over the world and to build alliances where needed to advance our cause.

Beyond Pan-Africanism, the struggle to dismantle the neocolonial conditions in which black folks continue to live in the United States, like George Jackson brilliantly told us decades ago, has to be linked to an international struggle of the oppressed, and as such it will be won when the global struggle, which Afro America is an integral part of, will see the end of the empire with her tentacles cut off from all over the oppressed world. Fascism in America is trained and perfected on black bodies, then transferred and expertly translated as policy around the world. At the same time, military killers in Iraq go home to terrorise black lives in the streets of Minneapolis. Many locations, one enemy. This too must be understood clearly and the lessons applied for our inevitable victory.

Photo from Socialist Alternative.

Ultimately, it’s a recognition of the sheer power and possibilities that lay in the hands of Afro America that will give Black August it’s due place as an institution for self-determination and radiant new beginnings. Those millions of beaten down, imprisoned, overworked and back-bent workers and peasants that make America’s machines run are the only true vanguard of the humane struggle to change the conditions of humanity and halt an empire whose barbarism has outshone all other empires before her.

Oppressed humanity continues to look to Africans in America as they lock horns with the devil. Knowing this contending class of people will determine the course of human history — the one who emerges victorious moves the old hands of the human story, either to prosperity for all, or perdition. But knowing the arc of history, in the end it’s the oppressed who win since they have nothing to protect and everything to gain in this glorious fight. A protracted and long struggle, but victory being assured for the long-suffering fella who embodies the truth in her very being.

To truly honour George Jackson and the Soledad brothers is to struggle for what they stood for; it is to study their bequeathal to this generation and make it come to life. To organise and study hard as they did, and never for once cower before the elemental forces of oppression. To never be counted amongst the broken — George died victorious and unbroken in the harshest of places, in the hands of the most vicious. To know that eventually the prison gates will open and the real dragon will fly out.

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