A “Revolutionary” And His Heroes

An interview with Satpal Ram was published in the March 4, 2000 issue of Socialist Worker, (available on-line). Entitled ‘Prison made me a revolutionary’, it is yet another rehash of poor, innocent, victimised Satpal.

Ram says that before his incarceration he was not a political animal, but has since become radicalised. When hauled before the governor on his numerous disciplinary charges he replies in the following fashion:

“Name and number.”
“Satpal Ram, E94164.”
“How do you plead?”
“I do not recognise this court. I am a political prisoner.”

Political prisoner E94164 Ram lists among his heroes George Jackson, Huey P. Newton and Mumia Abu-Jamal. These three names may not be instantly recognisable to a denizen of 21st Century Britain, but two of them became famous - or more accurately notorious - in the United States in decades past.

Like so many radicals, George Jackson came from a good family. His parents were working class blacks, but his father, Lester, had a much harder childhood than he did. George was sent to a Catholic school but was soon running with street gangs. At the age of eighteen, he received a sentence of from one year to life for robbing a gas station. This sounds unduly harsh but it was par for the course in California at that time; Jackson could almost certainly have won parole if he had mended his ways, but instead he had constant run-ins with the prison authorities, and revelled in his image as a hard man. His violence was directed at other inmates irrespective of race.

Jackson’s time in prison was not entirely wasted; as well practising thuggery and general troublemaking, he set about furthering his education. Part of that education was the usual radical politics; blaming the racist system rather than himself for his incarceration, he joined the Black Panthers. All may not have been lost, because the racist system permitted the radical Jackson to publish a critically acclaimed book of prison letters, Soledad Brother. All was lost though, because in addition to critical acclaim, Jackson won himself an indictment (along with two other inmates) for the murder of a prison guard. Shortly before standing trial for that alleged murder, and still only 29, he was shot dead in a bizarre escape attempt from the infamous San Quentin Prison in August 1971. During this attempted break out, five people were murdered by other inmates: three prison guards and two inmates, all of them white.

Like George Jackson, Huey P. Newton served hard time. Like Jackson he was not unintelligent, and certainly had charisma, and most certainly he could have been a benefactor to his race, but things turned out very different. Newton was co-founder of the Black Panther Party; both he and his acolytes have been idolised by white radicals in America and throughout the world, although in recent years the image of both Newton personally and the Panthers has become tarnished as a Revisionist truth has emerged from some surprising sources, in particular American-Jewish leftist (and former radical) David Horowitz (1) and a black journalist named Hugh Pearson. (2)

In October 1967, Newton shot dead police officer John Frey and was convicted of manslaughter. Though this conviction was overturned on a technicality, years later Newton would boast to his circle that he had gotten away with murder. (3) Prior to the murder of Officer Frey, Newton was sentenced to a surprisingly lenient six months for stabbing an unarmed black man at a party with a steak knife.

Newton was also indicted for the murder of a teenage prostitute; the trial resulted in a hung jury, as did the retrial. Although it cannot be proved legally, it is fairly certain that Newton ordered if not committed other murders, mostly of fellow blacks.

Ironically, the white radicals and progressives who idolised him played a large part in Newton’s downfall. He picked up a cocaine habit from them, and when the money dried up, he turned to crack. In August 1989, at the age of 47, Newton was found shot to death, apparently while on a mission to buy - or scrounge - crack.

So much for two of Ram’s heroes; his third hero is currently extant, although hanging on by a thread. At the time of writing, Mumia Abu-Jamal continues to languish on Death Row. Like Newton and Jackson, Abu-Jamal was a Black Panter, albeit in his youth; like Ram, he committed a senseless murder, and like Ram, although he was convicted on overwhelming evidence, his supporters continue to protest their hero’s innocence through a smokescreen of lies. (4)

Of course, Ram is not the only person to worship killers. Many of our folk heroes and the folk heroes of all nations are glorified precisely because they spilled human blood. There are many people, not all of them left wing scumbags, who regard Tony Blair as a mass murderer for maintaining the years’ long sanctions against Iraq and for complicity in the bombing of that country. There is though a stark difference between on the one hand the soldier who kills on the battlefield or the politician who can only be judged by history, and the drunken thug who attacks a stranger in a restaurant because he asked the waiter to change the music.

April 4, 2001

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