New book!

Revolutionary Education: Theory and Practice for Socialist Organizers
Learn moreOrder a copy

Blood in my eye (study guide)

Feb 1, 2022

George Jackson finished writing Blood in My Eye just before he was assassinated by San Quentin prison guards in 1971. Jackson spent eleven years in prison, during which time he became a revolutionary political theorist and organizer. For more information on the book, see this companion article to our Liberation School study guide.

Preface by Gregory Armstrong

  1. What practical insights does Gregory Armstrong’s Preface offer organizers?
  2. Why is it significant that George Jackson did not become a revolutionary until he was incarcerated?
  3. Why is it important for organizers not in prison to understand that revolutionaries are routinely punished in prison for their beliefs and for their actions?
  4. What price did Jackson pay for his commitments?
  5. Armstrong notes how Jackson’s focus on building unity among prisoners across racial lines made him a particularly hated target by prison authorities. What does this tell us about how to organize against the larger system of white supremacist capitalism?
  6. A large part of Jackson’s political work was militant journalism that included writing and publishing Marxist articles on prison life. What other political prisoners can we point to that have followed the standard Jackson set for imprisoned revolutionaries?
  7. Armstrong discusses Jackson’s younger brother Jonathan who was killed in a suicidal attempt to free three Black prisoners from a courtroom in San Rafael, California. How are Jonathan Jackson’s actions an example of adventurism and ultra-leftism?
  8. What cautionary lessons does this tragedy offer organizers?
  9. What does Armstrong mean when he says Blood in My Eye “speaks with the voice of the dead”?

Blood in My Eye

This first section of the book consumes the first 87 pages. It is written as a “letter” to a recently released “comrade” whom George had studied with in prison. The letter is written as an orientation to help guide the recently released comrade in their organizing efforts in the larger society. When reflecting on the practical implications for organizers today it is important to remember that the world context that George was organizing and thinking in has gone through many periods of development since 1971. Thinking about what is different and what is the same between then and now will be helpful. We are not struggling against the system as it was then, but as it is now.

  1. Discuss the 3 stages of political development George outlines and how it informed his own praxis. What are some practical implications for organizers of this framework of political development?
  2. What level of development did Jonathan Jackson seem to be at when he was killed?
  3. How does Jackson lay out the political landscape of opposition against the socialist movement in the U.S.?
  4. How is this landscape similar and different today compared to the 1970s?
  5. What role does patience and winning people over play in Jackson’s practical guide to organizing? What does this mean for organizing today?
  6. What arguments does George offer to help counter anti-communists? Are these polemics still relevant?
  7. How does Jackson differentiate reform from revolution? What is the role of the state in this formulation?
  8. What case does Jackson make regarding theory and practice?
  9. Why does Jackson argue that a socialist revolution in the U.S. will not be possible unless it takes considerations of racism as centrally important?
  10. While arguing that it is important to be in harmony with the socialist revolutionaries of the past, to be successful now requires we “create new impetus.” What does this mean?
  11. How does Jackson draw on Lenin?
  12. Ultimately, Jackson is making the case against dogmatism in revolutionary theory. Explain what this means.
  13. What does this demand of us now, 50 years later?
  14. What significance does Jackson afford political education in building revolutionary socialism?
  15. What point is Jackson making by reproducing long passages from his brother describing how to carry out guerilla warfare in the U.S.?
  16. At the beginning and then again at the end of these passages Jackson notes his brother was just 16 years old when he wrote them. Why is this important? What lessons does it offer?
  17. Jackson argues that participation in electoral politics is inherently reactionary. What does his text suggest about the time and place in which he was writing? What seems to be the purpose of Jackson’s most militant passages?
  18. Jackson spends a good amount of space discussing the armed phase of revolution. Was this correct at the time and is it correct now? Why or why not?
  19. What practical lessons, even for non-revolutionary times, can we discern from the long quotes from letters from Jon regarding testing and vetting new members?
  20. Jackson points to such factors as automation (i.e. labor-saving technology) in reducing the size and thus power of the industrial working-class. When Jackson was writing in the late 1960s automation as we know it today in its digitized form was in its beginning stages of development. How has automation evolved in the roughly 50 years since Blood in My Eye was written?
  21. In this discussion of automation and other factors Jackson is refuting the assumption within the left that revolutionary change will not occur until “all workers” are “politically educated.” What is the basis for Jackson’s position? Is his argument still relevant today?
  22. Jackson asks if the tactic of guerilla warfare developed in imperialism’s colonies in national liberation struggles would be effective in the imperialist centers such as the U.S. and concludes it would. Discuss why this would or would not still hold true today.
  23. In discussing the relevance of guerilla warfare in the U.S. Jackson argues that one of its key strengths is its creativity. Discuss this strength in non-revolutionary times.
  24. In this discussion Jackson outlines the vulnerabilities of establishment forces. Again, how might these insights translate in non-revolutionary times?
  25. Jackson notes that “the class complexities have shifted somewhat since the time of Marx and Lenin.” How have they shifted since Jackson? What are some of the practical implications of these shifts for socialist organizers?
  26. Jackson describes the reactionary elements of the working-class whom the system draws its greatest support. How has automation impacted these elements? What are the practical implications for organizers?
  27. Jackson discusses the “cybernetics” of the “pig class” as a weakness. What does this weakness look like today? How might it inform practical organizing work?
  28. Toward the end of this first, long section or chapter of the book Jackson outlines the “principles underlying departmentalization” of guerilla warfare, “the ambush,” “camouflage,” and “autonomous infrastructure.” Do “the ambush” and “camouflage” have practicality or equivalents for non-revolutionary times?
  29. Outlining the ultimate goal of revolutionary struggle, the seizure of state power and the building of a new society, Jackson uses the term “dual power.” For Lenin, dual power was a very specific term created to explain a unique stage in the Russian Revolution, before the ultimate seizure of all state power, when state power was shared by the bourgeoisie and the working and peasant classes. Today there is a tendency within the left to inappropriately use the term dual power to refer to any campaign or struggle of the working-class. Jackson is using the term dual power in reference to the Black Panther Party’s Survival Programs. If survival programs, then and now, are not an example of dual power, then what are they and why are they important?
  30. In this same discussion Jackson speaks of the need to replace stores, hospitals, etc. with ones created by the people. Early on in the chapter Jackson references the Marxist insight that the ready-made state cannot be seized upon and used to meet the needs of the people. Rather, it must be smashed and replaced by a new system created by the organized masses after taking state power. However, much else of the old society, such as the hospitals, stores and factories identified by Jackson, don’t need to be replaced, their purpose just needs to be redirected through the new state apparatus created by the revolution. What are the practical implications of this correction for organizers today?
  31. What important insights regarding the state does Jackson offer? Insights that can be mobilized through popular education to facilitate the political irrelevance of the capitalist state?
  32. In the context of the U.S.’s so-called pivot to Asia, discuss the contemporary relevance of Jackson’s critique of imperialist ideology: “They have been hypnotized into believing that criticism of the expansionist policies of imperialism is really isolationist of injurious to both the U.S.A. and the world!!”
  33. Discuss Jackson’s use of the term “culture” throughout. What are its strengths and weaknesses?
  34. Again, discuss the current relevance of Jackson’s anti-imperialism, “we must enter the war on the side of the majority of the world’s people, even if it means fighting the U.S.A. majority”?
  35. Do current public opinion polls regarding racist beliefs and white Americans, coupled with the diverse national composition of the 2020 uprising against racism, alter Jackson’s calculus represented in the follow quote? “We can’t wait until a generation that thinks of blacks as niggers and the rest of the world as gooks, chinks, spics, etc. has been educated away…We’ll mass ourselves and any ally we may be able to draw from the whole class structure, and we’ll attempt to wage a war on property and property rights” to join the global movement against capitalist imperialism.
  36. Why did the revolution Jackson spoke of not materialize in the U.S.? Was the revolutionary crisis spreading throughout the so-called third-world not present within the U.S.? Lenin argued that revolutionary crises cannot be created, they can only be anticipated and directed once present. Was Jackson responding to a revolutionary crisis or attempting to do what could not realistically be done, that is, create a revolutionary crisis?
  37. How and why does Jackson characterize the Panthers as the vanguard party of the U.S.?
  38. Jackson depicts the battle ground of guerilla warfare in the U.S. as a “technological city” defended by “mechanized warfare.” If the level of technological development is an important consideration in assessing the balance of forces between the capitalist and working classes, then what has changed in this regard since Jackson and what are the strategic and tactical implications for people’s movements?
  39. Discuss Jackson’s comments on the tactical effectiveness of rallies. If including outreach components to rallies expands their effectiveness, how might outreach enhance other aspects of building a mass movement of working people?
  40. What do we make of Jackson’s consistent insistence that any movement or government that is not fully or completely socialist, such as Allende’s Chilean revolution, is “meaningless”? One response to Jackson is that if change is always developmental and based on complex balance of forces, then it is incorrect to assume that there is one theoretical measuring rod to judge the validity of all struggles in all contexts. Jackson’s incorrect critique of Chile would equally, and equally incorrectly, apply to Venezuela today. Why does the PSL defend Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution? Why did the same forces of U.S. imperialism that bombed Allende out of office in 1972 continue to work tirelessly to upend Venezuela’s socialist process?
  41. What relationship does Jackson draw between consciousness and struggle?
  42. Discuss Jackson’s use of Mao’s explanation of tactical flexibility.
  43. Is it fair to argue that there exists a contradiction within Jackson’s call for tactical flexibility within his inflexible context of straight-to-revolution-armed struggle? Discuss and debate.
  44. In his concluding remarks Jackson argues “the objective conditions are present.” What is he referring to? The objective conditions for what? How does he come to this conclusion? Based on what? Are “the objective conditions” present today? How can we tell?

The Amerikan Mind

  1. Discuss Jackson’s use of the “Frankenstein” metaphor to explain the specific design and function of capitalist society’s institutions and structures.
  2. How does this formulation play into Jackson’s overall vision and revolutionary project?

Amerikan Justice

  1. How does Jackson characterize the purpose and function of the state in this short letter?
  2. How does Jackson’s assessment refute the way the bourgeois state characterizes itself as a neutral arbiter?
  3. How does the following passage factor into Jackson’s framework: “The mayors who curse the rioters and the looters…ignore the fact that their bosses have looted the world!!!”
  4. How does Jackson mobilize his own experience with incarceration to build his argument against the capitalist class’s white supremacist state apparatus?
  5. How does Jackson demonstrate that the violent arm of the state apparatus, represented by its so-called legal system, including cops, judges, etc., has always existed, since slave patrols, to intimidate people from fighting back against oppression?
  6. How does he also show that when people do fight back, the state’s function is suppression, by any means necessary?
  7. What is the contemporary significance of the connection Jackson draws between “Anglo-Saxon law” and “economics”?
  8. In the next section of the letter Jackson returns to the death of his brother Jon. Explaining the accelerationist logic behind his actions George comments that “he knew that as he proceeded in liberating there would be more action.” One question George does not address is the effectiveness of accelerationist tactics to induce a revolutionary crisis.
  9. Jackson then turns to psychology and the ways that “acceptance of enslavement is deeply buried in the pathogenic character types of capitalism…But to emphasize these conditions before examining the institutions from which they spring is to confuse effect with cause and further cloud the point of attack.” How might these insights inform organizers?
  10. What do the insights in this letter suggest about the structural limits to reform?
  11. In the midst of a revolutionary crisis when the state no longer has legitimacy in the eyes of the masses of workers and therefore does not have their support, it makes both practical and political sense for organizers to call for revolution now. However, in non-revolutionary times, how do organizers build a mass movement and revolutionary consciousness without alienating the broadest masses of working people?

Toward the United Front

  1. In this selection Jackson returns to the conclusion that the U.S. is in fact a fascist state. How and why does Jackson come to this conclusion?
  2. Why does Jackson conclude that the prison movement offers the greatest hope for building unity across all lines of difference and therefore of building a mass, revolutionary movement?
  3. What insights regarding the role of a vanguard party in building a mass movement does Jackson offer?
  4. How and why does Jackson refute the idea of so-called Black racism?
  5. How does Jackson conclude this piece? What is the vision of a post-revolutionary situation he points to? Why might Jackson have deemed it necessary to the revolutionary process to paint this picture?

On Withdrawal

  1. At this point in the text Jackson turns his theoretical labor to a future context, our current context, when the revolutionary forces had been defeated and destroyed. The question then becomes how to proceed to rebuild the revolutionary movement. What does he offer us in terms of a place of departure?
  2. Jackson describes the U.S. state as fascist throughout the text. What is the basis for this characterization? Is it correct?
  3. What does Jackson mean by “reformism” and why does he argue it is responsible for the defeat of the revolution?
  4. What does Jackson mean by “withdrawal” and why does he argue it logic is guiding a new stage in the development of the struggle?
  5. What is Jackson’s broad vision of forcing the capitalist to withdraw from cities?

Fascism

  1. Discuss Jackson’s critique of definitions of fascism that condemn socialist countries as totalitarian and its contemporary manifestations.
  2. In making his case for why the U.S. is a fascist state Jackson touches on the 1787 Constitutional Convention, nearly two decades before Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States and five decades before Gerald Horne’s The Counterrevolution of 1776. What is the significance of Jackson’s work here?

Classes at War

  1. In this section, Jackson continues to elaborate on his conception of fascism. He writes that fascism “has proved to have three different faces.” Identify those three faces and their typical characteristics. Discuss current states (e.g. US, Israel, India, etc.) in regards to Jackson’s different phases of fascism.
  2. Define positive mobilization and contra-positive mobilization. Discuss the positive and contra-positive mobilizations throughout the course of capitalist development.
  3. On page 148, Jackson provides historical context for “stage one” of fascism. Does this historic context have relevance to organizing today?
  4. “Fascism is always a response to a threat to the establishment.” What evidence for this statement can we find in fascist mobilizations historic and recent?
  5. Who are the “shock troopers of fascism?” What relevance does defining this concept have to organizing today?
  6. Discuss the role of the authoritarian syndrome in fascism.
  7. “Without the support of government, capitalism simply could not prevail.” What significance does this have for organizers today?
  8. Describe the true nature of “fascist manipulators.” What relevance does the true nature of fascist manipulators have today?
  9. On page 155, Jackson defines “the heart of the fascist economy.” How does he define it? Does any current state match this definition?
  10. What is Labor Establishment’s role under a fascist state?
  11. Discuss the “mass jungle.”
  12. Discuss the “strange combination of first and second phase fascism” that existed or exists in South America. Does this section have relevance for any other state?
  13. Why would Latin American states not be able to move into the third phase of fascism, per Jackson?
  14. What was the contradiction of labor during the Third Reich?
  15. How does a “industrial-military-based economy” expand and survive?
  16. Discuss why Jackson characterizes the US during the 1930s as fascist. What were F.D.R.’s goals during this period?
  17. Starting on page 164, Jackson gives a short overview of labor history in the US. Was anything surprising about this section? What relevance does this discussion have for organizers?
  18. Discuss the impact of U.S. capitalism on the world during the World War period.
  19. Discuss the “traditional Anglo-Saxon concept of law” and the current state of the law in the U.S. and how it maintains contra-positive mobilization.
  20. How does Jackson define the “true welfare state”?
  21. What role does vulnerability in a capitalist society play in perpetuating a racist system?
  22. “This programmed racism has always served to distract the huge numbers of people who subsist at just a slightly higher level than those in a more debased condition…” Discuss the history of racism in the U.S. through the framework of this quote.
  23. How should the socialists have responded during World War I, according to Jackson?
  24. For Jackson who are “the most pathetic victims of the totalitarian process”? Why?
  25. Does Jackson think the U.S. state is a fascist state at the time the book was written (1972)? Why?
  26. How does Jackson answer the question: “So what is to be done after a revolution has failed?” How would you answer the question?
  27. What is the “overall task” of the vanguard party? What should organizers today take from this section?
  28. “How do we raise a new revolutionary consciousness against a system programmed against our old methods?” What is Jackson’s answer to this question? What is your answer?
  29. Discuss Jackson’s discussion of protests in the U.S. How is he using this assessment to advance his thesis? What types of dissent are allowed? What types of dissent are met with repression?
  30. How does Jackson define freedom at the end of this section?

The Oppressive Contract 

  1. Why does Jackson state that he “rages on?”
  2. What is the “oppressive contract?”
  3. Why does part of the working class betray its class interests?
  4. Discuss racism under monopoly capitalism. What relevance does this have for organizers today?
  5. How does “the exploiter” maintain their position? What effect does this have on society?
  6. What is involved in a “commitment to total revolution”?
  7. How would you answer Jackson’s rhetorical question: “Can we expect the hierarchy to do away with itself???”
  8. How did Jackson interact with a former revolutionary turn-counter-revolutionary? What lessons can we discern from this?

Afterword

  1. What was “the most important thing” that Jackson was tasked with?
  2. What is the state’s role in fostering violence?
Nations and Soviets: The National Question in the USSR

Nations and Soviets: The National Question in the USSR

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Liberation News on June 6, 2022. Skip to a section - The prison house of nations - Dawning of a new era - Socialism against oppression - Challenging changes - Towards a socialist future The past, as they say, is...

Nations and Soviets: The National Question in the USSR

Nations and Soviets: The National Question in the USSR

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Liberation News on June 6, 2022. Skip to a section - The prison house of nations - Dawning of a new era - Socialism against oppression - Challenging changes - Towards a socialist future The past, as they say, is...