Defying the Tomb by Kevin “Rashid” Johnson
by Ed Mead
Turning the Tide, Jan.-Feb. 2011
It is not often I write a book review. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I read very few books. The last review I wrote was for Mumia-Abu jamal’s Jailhouse Lawyers: Prisoners Defending Prisoners v. the U.S.A., which I read because I’m a former jailhouse lawyer, and also because it contained a chapter by me (it’s also an excellent book). I’ve recently read two other books, Guerilla USA, and Creating a Movement with Teeth, both by Daniel Burton Rose. I read these because they were about the George Jackson Brigade, of which I was a part. It isn’t that I only read books that have something about me in them. It is, rather, that as a revolutionary I see little on the political horizon containing much of what I would call real political substance or content. I tell my friends that I am “looking for [the] jesus” of political writings, I am looking for a revolutionary—a writer that strikes a chord within my understanding of dialectical and historical materialism as applied to the conditions and circumstances existing in the world today.
I have found such a book. It is Defying the Tomb by Kevin “Rashid” Johnson. If you fancy yourself a progressive revolutionary and also feel you are too smart to be a part of one of those dead-end ABCDEF groups, then this just may be the book for you. I wrote a small back cover blurb for Defying that said something to the effect of this: “Your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to buy as many copies of this book as you can, read it, and then get those copies into the hands of as many prisoners as possible.” This is good advice and something I am passing along here as well.
With a forward by Russell “Maroon” Shoats, an introduction by Tom Big Warrior, and an Afterword by Sundiata Acoli, I figured this was going to be a good read. It was. Mr. Shoats ends his forward by referring to Rashid and his comrades as young lions, he says: “…it’s up to all of you to recognize how much we need him, and all of these unmentioned younger soldiers; comrades like him can raise us up. Put as much protection around him as you can. Our future depends on it!” This is true. Rashid must be defended against the machinations of the state or he will suffer the fate of Fred Hampton, George Jackson, and countless other murdered revolutionaries here and around the globe.
Like Comrade George before him, Rashid takes the reader to a level of political thought not fully contemplated before, but yet one we already know so well. Also like George, Rashid grew up on the streets and with a street mentality—a mentality than landed him in prison at a young age. We next go through a section of the book with Rashid and watch the process of his in prison political maturation. Before long we are treated to the content of the letters exchanged between Rashid and a fellow convict called Outlaw, where we see those now mature politics address a practice that verifies theory. Weaved throughout the whole book are discussions of subjects such as the application of dialectical and historical materialism to global, national, and local conditions, as well as a good discussion on the question of democratic centralism (don’t screw up your nose, read what he has to say).
When I was a part of Men Against Sexism (MAS) in the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla back in the 1970s, it became necessary to align with a group of social prisoners who were then running the Lifers Club. In making this union I insisted that we be organized on the basis of democratic centralism (DC). When one of our MAS members subsequently violated the group’s security a decision was made to beat the offender with clubs fabricated from broomsticks. I argued against this assault but after the discussion ended I was out-voted and because of DC was I forced to participate in the beating of a comrade  Ever since that time I have not been a proponent of DC. Not until now. Rashid’s examines the past abuses of DC and points out how its true intent has been replaced by some form of authoritative commandism.
Rashid correctly notes that none of Lenin’s contemporaries in the global Social Democratic movements criticized DC, not even Rosa Luxemburg, who strongly opposed features of “Leninist” organizations. He concludes by saying, “…corruption and abuses of power are essentially impossible when DC is observed, since all Party members, leaders especially, are subject to criticism, exposure and recall through open democratic processes. Leaders are elected to their positions based upon demonstrated qualifications and integrity, and are subject to having their powers revoked for failure to live up to their responsibilities, also by majority vote.” (Emphasis in original.)
The comparisons of Rashid to Comrade George cannot be understated. To my way of thinking Defying the Tomb is a more mature and well-reasoned Blood In My Eye—Rashid builds upon and advances George’s political thinking. The book concludes with a series of documents written by Rashid on subjects such as “On the Roles and Characteristics of the Panther Vanguard Party and Mass Organizations” and “What’s Left of the Left.” As well as other commentaries on subjects such as the Black entertainment and the media, and various commentaries on today’s America. Rashid’s knowledge and research are impressive and his writing style is one that’s easy to follow.
Rather than go further into the content of the book, I will merely urge you to buy and read it for yourself. For my part, I have ordered ten copies and will work to use Rashid’s book as the focus of a Seattle-based study group. That is as high a praise as I can possibly give for any book. Read this one now. Then start a study group of your own; one focus of which can be sending copies of Defying in to rights and class conscious prisoners.
- Available at AK Press (www.akpress.org) and Left Wing Books (https://secure.leftwingbooks.net).
- An organized group of gay and anti-sexist prisoners that fought homophobia and prisoner-on-prisoner rape, using tools such as a newsletter, films, and six home-made shotguns.
- Half way through the beating I threw my stick down in disgust. Another prisoner picked it up and continued hitting the offender, who ended up with both arms broken.
Ed Mead is a former political prisoner, the co-founder of Prison Legal News, organizer of Men Against Sexism (a group that militantly opposed sexism, racism, homophobia and rape) inside the walls of the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla, and the creator of the Prison Art Project. He spent 18 years behind bars as a result of his alleged participation in the GJB-related activities.