Spartacist Canada No. 167
Free the Class-War Prisoners!
“The mills of capitalist justice grind out victims for the penitentiary….
“In one sense of the word the whole of capitalist society is a prison. For the great mass of people who do the hard, useful work there is no such word as freedom. They come and go at the order of a few. Their lives are regulated according to the needs and wishes of a few. A censorship is put upon their words and deeds. The fruits of their labor are taken from them. And if, by chance, they have the instinct and spirit to rebel, if they take their place in the vanguard of the fight for justice, the prisons are waiting.”
—James P. Cannon, “The Cause that Passes Through a Prison” (Labor Defender, September 1926)
Following in the tradition of Cannon’s International Labor Defense (ILD) in the United States, the Partisan Defense Committee honours the class-war prisoners—those brave men and women railroaded to prison for standing up to racist capitalist oppression—irrespective of their particular political views or affiliation. Twenty-five years ago, the PDC revived the ILD program of providing monthly stipends to class-war prisoners and additional funds for their birthdays as well as holiday gifts for them and their families. Fundraising efforts for this unique and necessary program include benefits in Chicago on December 18, New York City on January 21 and Toronto on January 28.
The $25 monthly stipends help ease a little bit the horrors of “life” in capitalist dungeons. More importantly, they are a necessary expression of solidarity with these prisoners—a message that they are not forgotten. In letters to the PDC before last year’s Holiday Appeal, the prisoners gave a glimpse of what the program means to them:
Hugo Pinell: “Your care and solidarity has provided me with extra strength and drive to keep on pushing and evolving and i hope that my company has served you well. I am with you, in life and struggle.”
Janine Africa: “I want to thank everybody for yalls support all of these years. I’m not just talking about the holiday donations, I’m talking about the work yall do for the release of political prisoners from prison.”
Jaan Laaman: “This solidarity and support is important and necessary for us political prisoners, especially as the years and decades of our captivity grind on…. Being in captivity is certainly harsh, and this includes the sufferings of our children and families and friends. But prison walls and sentences do not and can not stop struggle.”
Tom Manning, Laaman’s Ohio 7 comrade: “Just so you know, it [the stipend] goes for bags of mackerel and jars of peanut butter, to supplement my protein needs.”
The struggle to free all class-war prisoners is critical to educating a new generation of fighters for the oppressed. This is given added meaning as we build for this Holiday Appeal. Persecution of those imprisoned for their political views and actions has not only continued unabated in Obama’s America, but he and his top cop, Attorney General Eric Holder, are making reservations for many more to join them. The Obama administration has launched an ominous escalation of state repression, accelerating the repressive measures adopted during the Clinton/Bush years that will be wielded against those who propelled him to office—labour, blacks, immigrants and leftist youth.
Mumia Abu-Jamal, whose case will again be a focus of the Holiday Appeal, is threatened with the reinstitution of the death sentence following a November 9 court hearing. Seventy-one-year-old leftist lawyer Lynne Stewart has been resentenced to ten years in prison for the “crime” of representing her client. The PDC has added Stewart to the stipend recipients. In Chicago and Minneapolis, the FBI recently raided the homes of leftists, antiwar activists and unionists under the rubric of the “war on terrorism.” Among those targeted were members of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization and others, who have run afoul of Washington for their open support to leftist rebels in Colombia opposed to the U.S. puppet regime, the secular-nationalist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah.
Here in Canada, the cop rampage and mass arrests during last summer’s G20 protests in Toronto expose the lie that capitalist Canada is some kind of “progressive” alternative to the U.S. Defense of the anti-G20 protesters now being dragged through the courts will be highlighted at the Toronto Holiday Appeal (see article above).
The PDC initiated the stipend program at the height of the reactionary Reagan years in the U.S., defining features of which included the destruction of the PATCO air traffic controllers union, the bombing of the Philadelphia MOVE commune and efforts to classify leftists and union militants as terrorists and criminals. It was an important component of fighting efforts to criminalize leftist political dissent—and it remains so today, as the “war on terror” has given the capitalist governments in the U.S., Canada and other countries repressive powers that Reagan could only dream of.
We have provided stipends to over 30 prisoners, including eight union militants, on three continents. Many of these prisoners, largely victims of the racist American rulers’ war against militant black activists, have been there from nearly the beginning of our stipends program. The U.S. government has repeatedly demonstrated its determination to make sure they die behind bars from old age or medical neglect—or in the case of Mumia, by legal lynching. In fighting for their freedom, we are dedicated to searing the injustice of these cases into the consciousness of the working masses—today and for generations to come. Regular features of the Holiday Appeal are presentations by PDC representatives to union locals in various cities. As Cannon noted, “The victory of the class-war prisoners is possible only when they are inseparably united with the living labor movement.” An injury to one is an injury to all!
The 17 class-war prisoners described below receive monthly stipends from the PDC.
Mumia Abu-Jamal is a former Black Panther Party spokesman, a well-known supporter of the MOVE organization and an award-winning journalist known as “the voice of the voiceless.” In January 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court took a big step toward the legal lynching of this innocent man. The Court vacated a March 2008 decision of the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals that had upheld a 2001 decision by federal district court judge William Yohn overturning Mumia’s death sentence. The high court in essence gave marching orders to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate the death penalty.
This December marks the 29th anniversary of Mumia’s arrest for a killing that the cops know he did not commit. Mumia was framed up for the 1981 killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner and sentenced to death explicitly for his political views. Mountains of evidence proving Mumia’s innocence, including the sworn confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, shot and killed Faulkner, have been submitted to the courts. But to the racists in black robes, a court of law is no place for evidence of the innocence of this fighter for the oppressed.
While others plead with President Obama and his attorney general to “investigate” violations of Mumia’s “civil rights,” the PDC says that Mumia’s fate cannot be left in the hands of the government of the capitalists. The racist rulers hate Mumia because they see in him the spectre of black revolt. The stakes are high and the situation is grim, but any real fight for Mumia’s freedom must be based on a class-struggle opposition to the capitalist rulers, who have entombed this innocent black man for more than half his life.
Leonard Peltier is an internationally renowned class-war prisoner. Peltier’s incarceration for his activism in the American Indian Movement has come to symbolize the racist repression of Native peoples, the survivors of centuries of genocidal oppression. In 1976, the Trudeau Liberal government denied Peltier asylum and extradited him back to the U.S. The RCMP and Canadian authorities were utterly complicit in the campaign of persecution against him. Peltier’s frame-up trial, for the 1975 deaths of two marauding FBI agents in what had become a war zone on the South Dakota Pine Ridge Reservation, shows what capitalist “justice” is all about. Although the lead government attorney has admitted, “We can’t prove who shot those agents,” and the courts have acknowledged blatant prosecutorial misconduct, the 66-year-old Peltier is still locked away. Last year, the U.S. Parole Commission again turned down Peltier’s parole request and declared they would not reconsider his case for another 15 years.
Eight MOVE members—Chuck Africa, Michael Africa, Debbie Africa, Janet Africa, Janine Africa, Delbert Africa, Eddie Africa and Phil Africa—are in their 33rd year of prison. They were sentenced to 30-100 years after the 8 August 1978 siege of their Philadelphia home by over 600 heavily armed cops, having been falsely convicted of killing a police officer who died in the cops’ own cross fire. In 1985, eleven of their MOVE family members, including five children, were massacred by Philly cops. After more than three decades of unjust incarceration, nearly all of these innocent prisoners again had parole hearings this year, but none were released.
Lynne Stewart is a radical lawyer incarcerated for zealously defending her client, a blind Egyptian cleric imprisoned for an alleged plot to blow up New York City landmarks in the early 1990s. On July 15 she was resentenced to ten years—more than quadrupling her original sentence—in a loud affirmation by the Obama administration that there will be no let-up in the massive attack on democratic rights under the “war on terror.” Stewart, now 71 years old and suffering from breast cancer, is known for her defense of Black Panthers, radical leftists and others reviled by the capitalist state.
Jaan Laaman and Thomas Manning are the two remaining anti-imperialist activists known as the Ohio 7 still in prison, convicted for their roles in a radical group that took credit for bank “expropriations” and bombings of symbols of U.S. imperialism, such as military and corporate offices, in the late 1970s and ’80s. Before their arrests in 1984 and 1985, the Ohio 7 were targets of massive manhunts. Their children were kidnapped at gunpoint by the Feds.
The Ohio 7’s politics were once shared by thousands of radicals during the Vietnam antiwar movement and by New Leftists who wrote off the possibility of winning the working class to a revolutionary program and saw themselves as an auxiliary of Third World liberation movements. But, like the Weathermen before them, the Ohio 7 were spurned by the “respectable” left. From a proletarian standpoint, the actions of these leftist activists against imperialism and racist injustice are not crimes. They should not have served a day in prison.
Ed Poindexter and Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa are former Black Panther supporters and leaders of the Omaha, Nebraska, National Committee to Combat Fascism. They were victims of the FBI’s deadly COINTELPRO operation under which 38 Black Panther Party members were killed and hundreds more imprisoned on frame-up charges. Poindexter and Mondo were railroaded to prison and sentenced to life for a 1970 explosion that killed a cop, and they have now served more than 40 years in jail. Nebraska courts have repeatedly denied Poindexter and Mondo new trials despite the fact that a crucial piece of evidence excluded from the original trial, a 911 audiotape long-suppressed by the FBI, proved that testimony of the state’s key witness was perjured.
Hugo Pinell is the last of the San Quentin 6 still in prison. He was a militant anti-racist leader of prison rights organizing along with George Jackson, his comrade and mentor, who was gunned down by prison guards in 1971. Despite numerous letters of support and no disciplinary write-ups for over 28 years, Pinell was again denied parole last year. Now in his 60s, Pinell continues to serve a life sentence at the notorious Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit in California.
Jamal Hart, Mumia’s son, was sentenced in 1998 to 15½ years without parole on bogus firearms possession charges. Hart was targeted for his prominent activism in the campaign to free his father. Although Hart was initially charged under Pennsylvania law, which would have meant a probationary sentence, Clinton’s Justice Department intervened to have Hart thrown into prison under federal law. The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals has turned down Hart’s habeas corpus petition, and he has faced myriad bureaucratic obstacles and racist targeting throughout his incarceration.
Contribute now! All proceeds from the Holiday Appeals will go to the Class-War Prisoners Stipend Fund. This is not charity but an elementary act of solidarity with those imprisoned for their opposition to racist capitalism and imperialist depredations. Send your contributions to: PDC, P.O. Box 314, Station B, Toronto ON M5T 2W1.
—Adapted from Workers Vanguard No. 969, 19 November 2010