Labour must take a stand against austerity: The SEB and the choices for Labour

As I began writing, delegates from CLPs, socialist societies, affiliated Trade Unions and the Labour Party leadership were meeting at the Party’s National Policy Forum (NPF) to lay the foundations for Labour’s 2015 manifesto. Miliband’s speech to the Forum on Saturday morning contained several progressive measures – building 1 million houses over the next parliament, committing to repeal the health and social care bill and to implementing the living wage are all steps in the right direction. However, as Michael Meacher points out, Labour’s approach to the economy still has problems. The perspective repeated by the leadership (for example, Ed Miliband, here, Angela Eagle, the chair of the NPF, here, and Jon Cruddas, here) is that there is less money, so ‘higher spending is not the answer to the long-term economic crisis that we together have identified‘. At the close of the NPF, this has culminated in the line that Labour is in favour of ‘big reforms, not big spending‘.

But, as the Socialist Economic Bulletin (SEB) argues, the premise behind this position – that there is less money left – is untrue. The money does exist in the economy, except that it’s in private bank accounts, sitting idle.

The money does exist

As SEB has argued, after a period of sluggish growth, stagnating real wages, and an increase in private, household debts, culminating in the 2008 financial crisis, the rate of return on private investments – the capital invested in the economy by business – reached a tipping point. The return on investments fell to a level unnacceptable to the corporate sector. As a consequence, rather than reinvest them productively, a higher proportion of profits were either locked away in banks or distributed in dividends to shareholders. Today – after an investment strike lasting six years – big business sits on a cash mountain of hundreds of billions of pounds and shareholder payouts are at an all time high since the crisis began (see also here and here).

With the investment strike the economy slowed down. And when the economy slows down – when there’s less economic activity – businesses pay less tax, less people are in work and more people are on the dole. So, with the decline in investment, there’s an accompanying decline in tax receipts and an increase in welfare payments, which punches a hole in the public finances. All of a sudden there’s a surge in public debt.

But the ‘debt crisis’ is an illusion: this is a crisis of investment in which the impulse to make private profits contradicts the social need for economic growth. It’s not true that “there is no money left”. Money doesn’t disappear: it’s just languishing in the bank accounts of the big corporations, rather than being productively invested.

The Conservative Party has addressed the problem by trying to bribe companies into investing; by increasing what Marx called ‘the rate of exploitation’. This means making up for a decline in profitability by forcing down wages, and freezing pensions and increasing VAT to pay for corporation tax cuts and cash incentives to invest. It means serving up perfectly healthy – successful, even – public services to private interests so that they can make a profit out of them to the detriment of service provision.

It’s not working. The growth we’ve seen has been sluggish. Casualisation, pension freezes and downward pressures on wages have meant that even this anaemic growth is a recovery for the 1%, bought at the cost of the 99%. Even by the government’s own rationale, the austerity policy has failed. Public debt has gone up under the Tories. This is no surprise because the policy was never about ‘living within our means’, but all about restoring profits to capital at the expense of labour. That’s why the Tories want to make their cuts permanent. It’s about increasing the share of the economy that goes to profits and decreasing the share that goes to wages.

The Labour Party has a choice

Labour can repeat the right-wing framing of the austerity advocates; it can say that there’s no money left and that there’s nothing that can be done. This can be dressed up as a moderation of the Tory position – that the cuts are ‘too deep and too fast’ – but fundamentally it means accepting the basic logic of the argument. There’s no money so something has to give (welfare payments, public services, public sector pay etc).

This might placate the right-wing of the party, who argue that Labour must have a “responsible” economic plan (“responsible” only insofar as it doesn’t upset big business leaders, but profoundly irresponsible insofar as it will lead to crippling long-term stagnation). It certainly won’t placate the media who rightly see any “moderate” version of the austerity argument as contradictory. Most importantly, though, it will do very little for the millions of people adversely effected by the Tory drive to restore profits at the expense of everyone else.

Alternatively, Labour can propose a solution to the crisis that protects the living standards of the majority at the same time as it stands up to the corporate interests the Tories are protecting. If the private sector won’t invest the capital sitting idly in the banks, the next Labour government must make it.

Given that the money does exist in the British economy, SEB sets out a series of mechanisms which any radical reforming government could use to raise the cash required for productive investment without having to borrow. The measures set out aren’t exhaustive, but include using the banks that were nationalised in 2008 to direct credit to sections of the economy that are suffering from under-investment;  nationalising companies so as to increase the resources available for productive investment; ending private sector subsidies; increasing corporation tax; promoting equality; raising living standards by implementing a living wage, which would reduce benefit payments; cutting Trident and other forms of “defence” spending; scrapping wasteful schemes like PFI; and transforming schemes like the nuclear power subsidy, applying it instead to publicly controlled sectors, such as renewable energies.

The cash raised from such measures could be used to invest in new green technology, higher education and research, new housing, and infrastructure such as high speed broadband, transport infrastructure and house insulation. Investment in these areas would stimulate growth and reduce unemployment (and in doing so, halt the forward march of casualisation and zero-hours contracts).

Alongside measures such as the implementation of a living wage, such a strategy of investment – not cuts – would defend the living standards of the majority of people whilst simultaneously addressing the fundamental driver of the crisis; the collapse in investment.

The Labour Party succeeds in the polls when it is bold

Of course, a policy platform such as the one sketched above would face resistance from big business and its allies in the media. But “Red Ed” and his so-called “union paymasters” are already coming under vociferous fire in the newspapers. “Cautious” triangulation is being painted as dithering and weakness. It won’t work as an economic strategy and it’s failing as a political and electoral strategy.

If polling tells us anything, it shows us that when Ed Miliband stands up to the corporate and media barons, he surges in the polls. When he accepts the framing of the right-wingers, he slumps. It’s not simply that protecting the interests of the 99% from the profit hungry 1% is morally the right thing to do, it’s the electorally savvy thing to do as well.

On this account, we have a lot to learn from the French Socialists. The French elected Hollande as the antidote to Sarkozy’s austerity, not because he would continue the race to the bottom of French living standards. He is now one of the most unpopular presidents in French history.

An accomodation with austerity is the road to political wilderness. Labour will probably win the 2015 election – I hope more than anything for a Labour victory – but if it does, it will be despite the genuflection to corporate power, not because of it. Indeed, as in France, if Labour’s economic policy continues to bend the knee to these interests, newly elected Labour MPs can expect to serve in an unpopular one term government.

Winning the argument against austerity

Resources such as the SEB are an invaluable source for the Left inside and outside the Labour Party. Often, the Left knows what policy it wants – to halt the privatisation of public services and to defend pay and conditions – but can be ill equipped to provide an answer to the arguments behind austerity; that “there is no money left”; that the economy is swimming in debt; that we need to be fiscally “responsible”.

This is a political debate we need to have within the labour movement, and it’s one the Left needs to win. If it doesn’t, it will consign the Labour Party to a political desert, the British economy to stagnation and decay, and the British people to low pay, poor working conditions and a lower standard of living.

The right policy is the one that does the opposite. It’s the popular policy; one that tackles the investment crisis and grows the economy; that boosts standards of living. This is about two economic visions; two visions of British society. Labour should ignore the mirages of those who seek only to restor profits to capital, and adopt a perspective that sees a fundamental alignment between the interests of ordinary people and the future of the British economy. If it doesn’t, it could face years in the wilderness.

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Austerity and the rise of UKIP

Often at meetings of the left about UKIP and racism, or cuts to public services and pay, speakers will make a connection between the political rise of UKIP and the government’s austerity agenda. In the meetings, this is often expressed as follows: people are frustrated about the fact they can’t get a job or the fact that they can’t get a council house so they turn to UKIP who provide them with scapegoats; namely, immigrants.

The basics of the theory – that there is some relationship between austerity and the growth of racism (and by extension, the growth of UKIP) – is doubtless correct. However, the way in which this relationship is (implicitly) framed doesn’t quite capture the political dynamic that links the rise of austerity with the rise of Farage’s right-wing populist party.

For instance, if it were true that the hit to people’s living standards is the cause of UKIP’s new relative popularity (although let’s not get ahead of ourselves – they currently poll at only 12% of the electorate, and 44% say they would never under any circumstances vote for UKIP), why is it that there has been no similar left radicalisation? It’s important to emphasise that the shift to the radical populist right by sections of the electorate isn’t the outcome of some deterministic – eonomistic, even – law that says “in periods of crisis, people get more right-wing”. The rise of UKIP can’t be explained by reference to economic processes alone, it also needs to be explained politically. It’s into this political dynamic that the campaign against UKIP must intervene.

Austerity and Racism

As I’ve argued elsewhere, the ramping up of racism by the government is an attempt to divide the resistance to austerity and scapegoat a section of the population for the problems Britain faces. For example, recently David Cameron very plainly asserted that it was Eastern European immigrants that were forcing down wages (and not, say, unscrupulous bosses – as an aside, there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that immigrant labour exerts a downward pressure on wages. In fact, Mick Burke astutely points out that these were precisely the same sorts of arguments used against women joining the workforce in the early 20th century). Cameron’s comments were a crude (but effective) attempt at distraction.

Unfortunately, the Labour Party is also in danger of succumbing to this divide and rule tactic. In his speech to Bloomberg, delivered in his failed bid to become Labour leader, the now shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, rightly pointed out that it’s the  decline in growth, caused by a collapse in  private investment, that has driven the economic crisis and subsequent economic stagnation. Logically, it follows that if capital won’t invest the hundreds of billions it has hoarded, the government should make it. This in itself requires some kind of assault on capital; an assault to which Ed Balls and the Labour frontbench have subsequently refused to commit.

In the absence of an economic strategy that makes the 1% – rather than the 99% – pay for the crisis, the Labour Party will be left with a set of policies that continue the attack on living standards started by the Tories (it’s irrelevant to the present argument whether this is a more moderate attack or not). This will only strengthen the hand of those inside and outside Labour who wish to see it move to the right on immigration because the Party will need a political justification for the cuts it will inflict upon people; they will need a scapegoat.

UKIP and mainstream politics

If the Tory austerity agenda (alongside Labour’s reticence to articulate an alternative) has engendered the race to the bottom on immigration rhetoric, it’s also this rhetoric which has fed the growth of UKIP. In fact, UKIP’s strategy of exploiting immigration is relatively new. Previously the Party had been fixated on the EU. The strategy of connecting immigration with the EU is designed precisely to key into this mainstream racist sentiment, valorised by the Tory-led government.

As I’ve argued, UKIP’s primary source of support comes from older, white, male, working-class Tories. The UKIP vote is therefore best understood as a split in the Tory base. The Tories know this. In fact, it’s Lord Ashcroft, a Tory donor and strategist, who has commissioned some of the most extensive polling on UKIP. His latest poll demonstrates that UKIP voters are overwhelmingly (50%) ex-Tory voters, whereas only 15% of those who voted UKIP in the last election voted Labour (there are, of course, exceptions, but this is, nonetheless the rule).

If the success of UKIP is a product of the increase of mainstream Tory racism, and if UKIP represents a split in the Tory electoral base, then the real danger is that the Conservatives will lurch even further to the right on immigration to shore up the voters they risk losing.

This will have the further effect of piling the political pessure on Labour to concede the point on immigration, “admit” they “got it wrong” under Blair and Brown, and propose their own punitive measures against immigrant communities. At present, the main pressure on the Party in this direction consists of the claim that UKIP are picking up the votes of working class men – one of Labour’s traditional bastions of support – which is eating into their electoral base.

This argument comes from UKIP itself, but also from within the Party (Sadiq Khan’s recent open letter of apology to UKIP voters is one of the most drastic cases in point). The logic goes that voters are leaving Labour to vote UKIP, so the Labour leadership need to listen to the “legitimate concerns” of those voters to win them back (read: make concessions to anti-immigrant racism). However, it misses out a key part of the picture: namely, that UKIP voters may well be working-class, but they are working-class Tories, not ex-Labour voters. It’s a little far-fetched to assume that these voters will switch to Labour on the basis of a raft of new Labour policies that attack immigrants. Why would you vote Labour if you’ve never done so before and if there are “real” anti-immigrant parties – the Tories, UKIP, the BNP even – for whom you can vote?

Unfortunately, this argument – which is being promoted by sections of the Labour right – is also being repeated by some sections of the Left. Of course, the story is spun slightly differently: instead it’s said that the Labour Party is losing votes to UKIP because it’s refusing to stand up for working class people. The strategy for opposing UKIP is consequently posed as an economic strategy: if Labour (or some other Party) pledged to provide people with housing, jobs and decent pay then people would vote for it.

It’s true that Labour lost votes as a consequence of moving to the right. However, the polling data cited above suggest that it’s not true that these people are voting for UKIP. In fact, it seems more likely that of the 6 million people who stopped voting Labour whilst they were in office, the majority defected to the Lib Dems, the Greens or stopped voting altogether. Advocating an economic strategy that protects the standards of living for the majority in society is one way of winning back these lost voters. However, an economic strategy alone will not suffice to stand up to UKIP.

The Left needs to wage a political struggle against racism

It’s certainly correct to say that UKIP has had electoral successes (although they are more modest than they are depicted by the media and Farage) and that these successes have depended upon the context of the economic crisis.

However, the relationship between economic processes and the rise of UKIP should not be posed deterministically. Rather, UKIP has fed off the ideological ground made fertile by the Conservatives and the divide and rule, scapegoating tactics the Tories have used to defend the austerity agenda. UKIP represent a split in the Tory party that want to pull it even further to the right. This looks to be succeeding.

This has knock-on effects for the Labour Party and, as a consequence, the Left as a whole. Labour will come under increasing pressure to be “tougher” on immigration. Despite evidence to the contrary, it will be (and is being) argued that a significant portion of its electoral base are turning to UKIP and that to stop this, Labour must make concessions to anti-immigrant racism (these proposals become even more attractve in the absence of an economic alternative to austerity).

The polling directly contradicts this view, showing that it is the Tories, not the Labour Party, who are significanly losing votes to UKIP. It will do us no good at all to concede ground on this point and go along with the idea that UKIP are substantially eating into Labour’s base. It’s not true and only gives more strength to the Labour right, who want to justify a shift to the right on immigration on pragmatic grounds (the classic line being that it’s useless grandstanding about immigration if you’re not in power). From the perspective of winning elections, this rightward shift – which is essentially a strategy of chasing ex-Tory votes – is anything but pragmatic. It’s unconvincing to the ex-Tory UKIPers and it will alienate Labour’s natural supporters. It will also feed the rightward dynamic that UKIP have created.

It’s clear, then, that there is a causal relationship between the implementation of austerity and the electoral fortunes of UKIP. But it’s a political relationship in which the need to justify an unjust economic policy nourishes a more radical right-wing socal force that then pulls the centre of political gravity further to the right, putting pressure on the centre-left to follow suite. This dynamic has its origins in austerity, but it’s playing out in the realm of politics, not economics.

The response to it cannot simply be to call for economic reforms like more council homes, jobs and better pay and conditions (although it would certainly make it easier if the Labour Party were to do this!). The Left also needs to tackle the politics – i.e. the racism – of UKIP head-on. This means challenging the view that immigrants depress wages; challenging the view that immigrants take jobs; and challenging the view that they are responsible for the lack of affordable housing. But it also means calling UKIP’s views on immigration for what they are: racist. It’s only by waging a concerted struggle against the racism fueling UKIP that the march to the right on immigration can be halted.

Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson

Soledad brother

After a recommendation from a friend, I recently finished reading Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson. In 1960, George Jackson was charged for the theft of $70 from a petrol station. After receiving some very bad legal advice, he pleaded guilty to the charge and was given a ‘one year to life’ sentence to be served in the maximum security San Quentin prison. In prison, Jackson was subjected to racist abuse, assault and provocation from prison guard and inmate alike; assaults for which he was often punished just as harshly as his attackers – or more so – for simply defending himself. Of the ten years he spent in prison, seven were spent in solitary confinement. Every year Jackson would come up for parole, and every year he would be denied release.

The disproportionate sentencing, brutalisation and racist abuse Jackson suffered in prison radicalised him. After meeting Huey Newton, he became a member of the Black Panther Party and a revolutionary Marxist. He spent his solitary days in prison reading voraciously and throughout his letters, he extols the virtues of Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Mao Tse-Tung, Lenin and Trotsky. In this time, he also became acquainted with prominent intellectual, civil rights activist, and member of the Communist Party, Angela Davis.

Ten years after his incarceration, Jackson was moved to Soledad prison where a racially motivated fight broke out in the exercise yard. Three of the black convicts in the fight were shot dead by a white prison guard wielding an automatic weapon. Despite the gratuitous response to the violence, the prison guard was acquitted, and the killing of three black men described as a ‘justified homicide’. Days later, another prison guard was found beaten to death. The prison authorities assumed the murder was an act of retribution for the shooting and Jackson, with two other radical Soledad inmates, were identified – on scant evidence – as the perpetrators of the crime. If found guilty, Jackson and his prison comrades would be given a mandatory death sentence. The three prisoners were moved to solitary confinement in San Quentin. At the same time, a campaign calling for justice for the ‘Soledad brothers’ erupted across the US.

On 7th August, 1970, days after Jackson was transferred back to solitary, his brother Jon, carrying a satchel full of guns, walked into the San Rafael courthouse where a San Quentin prisoner was being tried. Shouting ‘we are the revolutionaries! Free the Soledad brothers by 12.30!’, Jon armed the prisoner and two prisoner witnesses and took five hostages, including the judge and the district attorney. As they made their escape in a transit van, police let loose a volley of shots and Jon, two of the convicts and the judge were all shot dead.

Jackson’s prison letters begin in 1967 and end days after the death of his brother in 1970. From the letters, it’s clear that Jackson’s parents didn’t share his revolutionary politics, and it’s fascinating to read the often frustrated explanations he gives for his outlook. More interesting still are his correspondences with Angela Davis and his lawyer, Fay Stender, which contain political treatise on racism and the prison system alongside discussion of the revolutions in China and Cuba, and the heroic resistance to US imperialism in Vietnam, all of which Jackson clearly admired immensely.

As I read the letters, three points struck me:

1. Jackson saw the transition in the US from black slave to black worker as a transition from one type of slavery to another.

In a letter to Fay Stender, Jackson is most explicit about this:

Slavery is an economic condition. Today’s neoslavery must be defined in terms of economics. The chattel is property, one man exercising the property rights of his established economic order, the other man is that property. The owner can move that property or hold it in one square yard of the earth’s surface; he can let it breed other slaves, or make it breed other slaves; he can sell it, beat it, work it, maim it, fuck it, kill it. But if he wants to keep it and enjoy all of the benefits that property of this kind can render, he must feed it sometimes, he must clothe it against the elements, he must provide a modicum of shelter. Chattel slavery is an economic condition which manifests itself in the total loss or absence of self-determination.

The new slavery, the modern variety of chattel slavery updated to disguise itself, places the victim in a factory or in the case of most blacks in support roles inside and around the factory system (service trades), working for a wage. However, if work cannot be found in or around the factory complex, today’s neoslavery does not allow even for a modicum of food and shelter. You are free – to starve. The sense and meaning of slavery comes through as a result of our ties to the wage. One’s entire day centers around the acquisition of the wage… I think it should be generally accepted that if a man (or woman) works for a wage at a job that he doesn’t enjoy, and I am convinced that no one could enjoy any type of assembly-line work, or plumbing or hod carrying, or any job in the service trades, then he qualifies for this definition of neoslave. The man who owns the factory or shop or business runs your life; you are dependant on this owner. He organises your work, the work upon which your whole life source and style depends. He indirectly determines your whole day. If you don’t make any more wages than you need to live, you are a neoslave. You qualify if you cannot afford to leave California for New York. If you cannot visit Zanzibar, Havana, Peking or even Paris when you get the urge, you are a slave. If you’re held in one spot on this earth because of your economic status, it is just the same as being held in one spot on this earth because you are the owner’s property. Here in the black colony, the pigs still beat and maim us. They murder us and call it justifiable homicide. A brother who had a smoking pipe in his belt was shot in the back of the head. Neoslavery is an economic condition, a small knot of men exercising the property rights of their established economic order, organising and controlling the life style of the slave as if he were in fact property. Succinctly: an economic condition which manifests itself in the total loss or absence of self-determination. Only after this is understood and accepted can we go on to the dialectic that will help us in a remedy’ (Jackson, 1970: 221-2).

What I found most impressive about this quotation is the way in which Jackson clearly ties legal and civil rights to economic rights. The precondition for liberty is freedom from wage-slavery. Without it, you only have the freedom ‘to starve’.

2. The struggle against racism is also a struggle against imperialism.

In the same letter to Stender, Jackson vehemently argues that the police are just one tool for preserving the privilege of a capitalist class. He writes:

‘[The police are] protecting the unnatural right of a few men to own the means of all our subsistence. The pig is protecting the right of a few private individuals to own public property!! The pig is merely the gun, the tool, a mentally inanimate utensil. It is necessary to destroy the gun, but destroying the gun and sparing the hand that holds it will forever relegate us to a defensive action, hold our revolution in the doldrums, ultimately defeat us… Spare the hand that holds the gun and it will simply fashion another. The Viet soldier has attacked and destroyed the pigs and their guns, but this alone has not solved their problems. If the Cong could get to the factories and the people who own and organise them, the war would end in a few months. All wars would end. The pigs who have descended upon the Vietnamese colony are the same who have come down on us. They come in all colours, though they are mainly white. Culturally (or anticulturally), they have the same background and the same mentality. They have the same intent: to preserve the economically depressed areas of the world as secondary markets and sources of cheap raw materials (Jackson, 1970: 223).’

The class that the police protect is – importantly – an international class. The police and army protect the same privileged interests across the globe. It’s for this reason that Jackson points to the importance of supporting all international resistance to these forces that would ‘preserve the economically depressed areas of the world [in which the majority of people are Black] as secondary markets and sources of cheap raw materials’:

‘The Chinese have aided every anticolonial movement that has occurred since they were succesful in their own, particularly the ones in Africa. They have offered us in the Amerikan colonies any and all support that we require, from hand grenades to H-bombs. Some of us would deny these wonderful and righteous people. I accept their assistance in our struggle with our mutual enemy. I accept and appreciate any love that we can build out of our relation in crisis. I’ll never, never allow my enemy to turn my mind or hand against them. The Yankee dog that proposes to me that I should join him in containing the freedom of a Vietnamese or a Chinese brother of the revolution is going to get spat on. I don’t care how much he has to offer in the way of short-term material benefits.

‘We must establish a true internationalism with other anti-colonial peoples. Then we will be on the road of the true revolutionary. Only then can we expect to be able to seize the power that is rightfully ours, the power to control the circumstances of our day-to-day lives (Jackson, 1970: 234).’

Jackson is startling uncompromising and strident in connecting the struggle against racism to the struggle against colonial oppression. Indeed, elsewhere in Soledad Brother he speaks approvingly of Martin Luther King’s later opposition to the war in Vietnam. Interestingly, too, he hints at the ‘short-term material benefits’ colonial oppression brings not only to the privileged interests – what we would call the 1% today – but also to the people populating the heartlands of US and European imperialism. For Jackson, the struggle against racist police repression at home is the same struggle against colonial oppression abroad.

3. Jackson’s views on the political role of women became more and more progressive over time

In the early letters, Jackson denies women any political agency. His letters to his mother on the subject of women and politics exhibit a conservative, paternalistic sexism. However, it’s clear that his correspondences with both Stender and Davis – with whom he exchanges some of his sharpest political commentary – seem to play an important role in changing this attitude. In a letter to an anonymous ‘Z’, who led one of the committees demanding justice for the Soledad brothers, Jackson tentatively writes:

‘But I’ve gone through some changes since then, I saw and read about Angie Davis and some other females of our kind , and I realised that perhaps it was possible that this country has produced some females like those of Cuba or Vietnam (Jackson, 1970: 242)’.

Later, in a letter to Angela Davis, he is most explicit in acknowledging the role of women on the Left:

‘In our last communication I made a statement about women, and their part in revolutionary culture. It wasn’t a clear statement. I meant to return to it but was diverted. I understand exactly what the women’s role should be. The very same as the man’s. Intellectually, there is very little difference between male and female. The differences we see in bourgeois society are all conditioned and artificial (Jackson, 1970: 262).’

Jackson confesses that his previous ‘statement about women… wasn’t a clear statement’. Reading the letters, I was struck by what it was Davis had said to him to make him reverse the sentiment he had expressed in previous letters. This is one of the most frustrating aspects of the book – although the reader has access to all Jackson’s letters, this is not true of those to whom his letters are addressed. Most of the time, this is not a problem – it’s easy to guess to what criticism or comment Jackson is responding. However, in the letters between Jackson and Davis particularly, the style seems more dialogical and it would’ve been interesting to see how the political differences between one of America’s foremost black feminists and the prisoner-turned-political radical were debated. I don’t see this as a criticism of the book exactly (it would be a much more lengthy volume if the other letters were included!), but a testament to how engaging the letters are.

Soledad Brother deserves to be read by all those on the left today (and beyond!). Although it was published over forty years ago, Jackson’s style is clear and he eloquently and engagingly illustrates some of the core ideas of the revolutionary left at the same time as he engages with the key political questions of the late 60s and his own life-and-death struggle with the US prison system. Reading the letters certainly gave fresh impetus to my own thinking. In the year after the book was published, Jackson was shot dead in an alleged attempt at escape from San Quentin. At 28 years old, Jackson was an incisive and engaging political thinker. His death was both a human tragedy and a blow to the Left, who lost a symbol of clear and uncompromising resistance to illegitimate power.

Jackson, G. (1970) Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson. London: Penguin