Spartacist Canada No. 168
From the Cold War to the G20:
State Repression Targets the Left
The Partisan Defense Committee (PDC) held its 25th annual Holiday Appeal benefits in December and January, including events in Toronto and Vancouver. The PDC is a class-struggle, non-sectarian legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League in the U.S. and the Trotskyist League/Ligue trotskyste in Canada. The funds raised at these events go toward providing monthly stipends and holiday gifts to class-war prisoners and their families, an expression of proletarian solidarity and material support. (See “Free the Class-War Prisoners!” SC No. 167, Winter 2010/2011, for details on the prisoners.)
The PDC events highlighted the case of death-row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. We also honoured 16 other class-war prisoners including American Indian Movement activist Leonard Peltier. Greetings to the PDC gatherings from the stipend recipients, including Mumia Abu-Jamal, Jaan Laaman of the Ohio 7 and Janine Africa of the MOVE organization, were read out and displayed.
Speakers at the Toronto event, held on January 28, included David Bleakney, National Union Representative of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), a speaker for the Spartacus Youth Club (see article, page 7), and speakers from the Trotskyist League/Ligue trotskyste and PDC. Mike Larsen, a managing editor for the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons, spoke on behalf of the Justice for Mohamed Harkat Committee. Harkat was one of five Muslim men detained in December 2002 under Ottawa’s draconian “security certificates,” which allow the indefinite detention of any refugee or immigrant whom the government considers a national security threat. Harkat was jailed without charge or trial for 43 months and was then placed under house arrest with extremely onerous conditions. The security certificates have been a cutting edge of the Canadian state’s repressive “war on terror.”
Sophie Harkat, Mohamed’s wife, also sent greetings to the event. Referring to a decision by the Federal Court in December, she wrote:
“The certificate was found ‘reasonable’ under the lowest standard of proof in a Canadian court. This decision was based on secret evidence neither Mohamed nor his public counsels could see or test for national security reasons. All that because CSIS believes, thinks, or assumes that Moe was involved or will be involved with terrorism in the past, present, or future. That position could cover any one of us at any time.”
Indeed, while the first targets of the ruling class have been the vulnerable Muslim minority, the “war on terror” has been from the beginning a political pretext to expand the repressive apparatus of the bourgeois state. The fight to defend the Secret Trial Five and all those targeted by the “war on terror” dragnet is crucial to all working people. After the court’s verdict, Harkat has now been issued with a deportation order to Algeria, possibly to torture or death. From the beginning, the PDC has called to free the detainees and to abolish the security certificates. No deportations! Defend Mohamed Harkat!
We print below the speech to the Toronto fundraiser by a PDC representative, slightly edited for publication.
We’re here to honour those behind prison walls for their political beliefs. The political climate in North America never has been very receptive to those who challenge capitalist rule.
On January 18, an estimated 13,000 police took over the downtown streets of Toronto in a show of police bonapartism at a funeral for one of their own. A lone protester, not even a leftist, objected to the massive show of police power that day, holding a placard that read “No Police State” on one side and “Soldiers Die, Electricians Die and People Die” on the other. He was knocked to the ground, arrested and held for hours.
You couldn’t pick up a newspaper, watch TV or listen to the radio for over a week without hearing the horrendous media campaign in the wake of the cop’s death. Contrast this to what happened when four migrant construction workers died on Christmas Eve 2009, when the scaffolding they were working on broke in two and they fell 13 stories to the ground. The federal government took the opportunity to go after “illegal” immigrants—those without the right to work in this country. When Amalgamated Transit Union worker Tony Almeida died in 2007 in a subway tunnel accident due to unsafe conditions, the press and TTC bosses smeared him as a drug user. These examples highlight the privileged status accorded to the lives of cops, the guardians of private property, in stark contrast to the lives of the working class and poor, who are treated as expendable. The PDC stands with the victims of capitalist exploitation and repression and those who fight against it.
The cops are the hired guns of the capitalist ruling class. Their job is to uphold racist capitalist “law and order” through brute force: breaking strikes, rounding up minority youth, repressing social protest. The courts, to which many look for some justice, are an essential part of this murderous repressive machinery. Capitalist so-called “law and order” is based on frame-ups, lies and police violence.
Last summer during the G20 protests there was a larger, more ominous police occupation of the city. Some 1,100 people were arrested, the largest mass arrests in Canadian history. The cop rampage exposed the lie that capitalist Canada is some kind of “progressive” alternative to the U.S. Today, a host of G20 protesters face serious conspiracy charges. It is crucial that we defend them. “Conspiracy” charges are one way the state goes after perceived opponents when there is no evidence of any crime. There’s a very long history of this in Ontario, going back to 1837 when trade unionists were targeted by conspiracy laws.
At previous Holiday Appeals we’ve heard about the repressive history of the Canadian bourgeoisie, including around the Winnipeg General Strike, part of the upsurge of working-class struggle that followed the victorious Russian Revolution of 1917 (see “Class-Struggle Defense in Capitalist Canada: From Winnipeg 1919 to Montreal 1970,” SC 164, Spring 2010). Tonight I want to expand on this and talk about Cold War state repression starting in the late 1940s. The imperialists’ Cold War was aimed at the counterrevolutionary restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union. At home, it meant witchhunting anti-Communism throughout North American society. I’ll begin with the so-called Gouzenko Spy Affair and what was known as the PROFUNC program, connecting these to state repression today. I’ll also talk about the class-war prisoners we’re highlighting tonight, including Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal.
In 1945, a cipher clerk at the Soviet embassy, Igor Gouzenko, defected in Ottawa, announcing he had proof of a widespread Soviet spy ring. This set off a chain reaction of anti-Communist hysteria. Fifteen people, including prominent supporters of the Communist Party, were arrested in February 1946 under a secret detention order made possible by the Royal Commission on Espionage, which the federal government instituted to track down “spies.” The Royal Commission is comparable to today’s security certificates. It allowed the state to secretly imprison people without charge and to hold them incommunicado for long periods, ignoring the right to engage counsel. It was one of the more thorough abuses of individual rights of the many carried out by the Canadian state.
The anti-Communist investigations surrounding the Gouzenko affair left a trail of destroyed careers and ruined lives. But they were no aberration. The capitalist class utilized the War Measures Act to imprison Canadians of German and Ukrainian descent in World War I and Japanese Canadians during World War II. Another of the state’s weapons was and is the Official Secrets Act, which was designed to prohibit and control access to and disclosure of “sensitive government information.”
At the height of the Cold War, the government approved a plan to round up thousands of Canadians with “Communist links” in the event of a “national security threat” and lock them away indefinitely, simply because they were perceived to be a threat to so-called Canadian democracy. Under PROFUNC, which stands for PROminent FUNCtionaries of the Communist Party, a list was prepared of some 16,000 suspected Communists and 50,000 sympathizers, to be monitored and interned. Under the plan, targets could be detained indefinitely, subjected to severe discipline and shot if they tried to escape detention.
The blacklist included prominent Canadian public figures—men, women and children—whose identities were kept on file, in secret, at RCMP detachments across the country. The files were regularly updated until PROFUNC’s demise in the early 1980s. This paralleled developments in the U.S., where detention camps for known communists were authorized. As revolutionaries, we recognize that anti-communist victimizations are aimed above all at beheading the workers movement.
The Cold War wasn’t just about getting the reds but was also waged more widely. The concern over so-called communist subversion eating away at the fabric of wholesome Christian life meant that differences based on sexual preference, gender and race were themselves signs of subversion. You did not need to be a communist to be considered a Cold War enemy; you could equally be a woman who wanted to work outside the home, a man who liked to visit gay bars or even an anti-nuclear bourgeois pacifist. The RCMP even developed the “fruit machine” to test if a man was gay. Believe it or not, they would show “suspects” photos of naked men and measure the dilation of their pupils to “determine” if they were gay!
It was only with the major social upheavals of the 1960s that the reactionary Cold War domestic climate, including the stultifying atmosphere of “family values,” was broken. The key place that this happened in this country was Quebec. A documentary on PROFUNC that recently aired in Quebec detailed the use of the RCMP-compiled lists during the “October Crisis” in Montreal in 1970. The October Crisis was used by the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau to try to smash a mass labour and social radicalization in Quebec, including growing support for independence. The government used the kidnappings of two government officials by the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ) to declare martial law and send the army in to occupy the streets. Hundreds of people were rounded up and thrown in jail. Other abuses in Quebec included the RCMP burning down a barn to prevent a meeting between members of the FLQ and Black Panther Party, and breaking into Parti Québécois offices to steal their membership files.
Many youth we talk to think that the oppression of the Québécois is a thing of the past. This is at best wishful thinking. The Liberal Party, backed by the NDP, imposed the Clarity Act, which bans Quebec from exercising its democratic right to self-determination. Our opposition to the Canadian state today is exemplified by our advocacy of Quebec independence.
Free the Class-War Prisoners!
Here I’d like to say a few words about Leonard Peltier. The labour movement must be mobilized to defend Native rights. This would be a step toward the emancipation of the working class as a whole in this country. It was important that the now locked-out Steelworkers (USW) Local 1005 sent several delegations to the occupation site of Native protesters in Caledonia. The occupation began when developers began building a residential subdivision despite a longstanding land-claim dispute. The USW flag has been prominently displayed there, along with that of the CUPW postal union, among others. Organized labour has the social power to possibly prevent further police and military attack against the Six Nations occupation.
Leonard Peltier’s incarceration for his activism in the American Indian Movement has come to symbolize the racist repression of Native peoples in North America, the survivors of centuries of genocidal oppression. It was Pierre Trudeau who extradited Peltier to his tormentors in the U.S. 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. The lead government attorney has admitted, “We can’t prove who shot those agents,” and the courts also admitted blatant prosecutorial misconduct, yet the 66-year-old is still locked away. Last year, the U.S. Parole Commission again turned down his request for parole and shockingly said they would not look at his case for another 15 years. I’d like to quote from a prison dispatch, “Greetings from Leonard Peltier, February 2010”:
“The Indian wars are not over; they just are fought more in the courtrooms and the boardrooms these days. But the issues are mostly the same—the land, resources, and freedom. Freedom to think. Freedom to live as we wish. Freedom to be who we are.”
Now to say a few words about Mumia Abu-Jamal. December marked the 29th anniversary of Mumia’s arrest. His case gives flesh and blood to the Marxist understanding of the state and its courts as organs of repression against the working people and the oppressed. The latest threat to Mumia’s life happened on November 9, 2010 when the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia heard oral arguments on whether or not to reinstate the death penalty. It may take months for the Third Circuit to announce its decision, which will then likely be appealed to the Supreme Court.
The PDC took up Mumia’s case many years ago. We’re proud of our massive efforts including the groundbreaking work of our attorneys debunking the phony ballistics evidence, exposing state coercion of witnesses, detailing the constitutional violations. We were instrumental in uncovering the confession by Arnold Beverly that he shot the police officer, and that Mumia had nothing to do with it. We have always struggled polemically against the various reformists who ignored this evidence. I’d like to make the point that the Gouzenko arrestees’ Communist affiliations made many of Canada’s liberal “civil rights activists” cringe from defending them against the Royal Commission on Espionage. This is echoed today when “respectable” liberals steer clear of the evidence proving Mumia’s innocence that was uncovered by the PDC. These liberals and the reformist left undermined the fight for Mumia’s freedom by diverting protests into pleas for a “new, fair trial” and by not proclaiming his innocence. At the last Mumia rally in November called by these reformist groups, it wasn’t until the PDC spoke that illusions in the bourgeois courts and the notion of justice under capitalism were countered. There is no justice in the capitalist courts!
If linked to a revived labour movement, the fight for Mumia’s freedom could strike a powerful blow against this system of state terror. What do I mean by a revived labour movement? Multiracial unions internationally, representing millions of workers, are on the record in support of Mumia, but they haven’t been mobilized in action. This is due to the fact that the union bureaucracy’s class-collaborationist politics tie workers to their exploiters. These politics have dissipated the fighting strength of the unions. We need to fight for a class-struggle leadership in the unions, using Jamal’s cause as part of the fight against the whole rotten system, replacing it with one in which those who labour rule.
Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, an innocent man! Abolish the racist death penalty!