Workers Vanguard No. 893
25 May 2007
International Rallies Demand: Free Mumia!
As Mumia Abu-Jamals May 17 appeals court hearing approached, the Partisan Defense Committees fraternal organizations in Britain and Germany held rallies demanding Mumias freedom, drawing an impressive range of participants from the trade-union movement, civil libertarians and leftists. The May 5 Partisan Defence Committee rally in London and the May 12 Berlin rally organized by the Committee for Social Defense (KfsV) were part of an international campaign to revitalize mass, labor-centered protest on behalf of Mumia—an innocent man and Americas foremost class-war prisoner—as he enters what could be the final stage of legal appeals (see article, page 1).
Despite their wide range of views, speakers at the rallies agreed on the call to free Mumia on the basis that he is innocent of the December 1981 killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner and that his life remains in danger. The rallies also demanded: Down with the racist death penalty! Within this framework, both rallies featured spirited debate over the way forward in the struggle for Mumia. At bottom, the debates boiled down to ones attitude toward the capitalist state and its cops and courts, which have stolen 25 years of Mumias life and still hold out the threat of his execution.
It took an outpouring of mass protest internationally, crucially including trade unionists, to stay the executioners hand in August 1995 as Mumia faced a death warrant. But the masses who raised their voices for Mumia at that time were soon politically demobilized by bourgeois liberals and reformist leftists who subordinated the fight for his freedom to the demand that he receive a new trial. That demand expressed a program of reliance on the very courts that railroaded Mumia to death row for a killing they know he did not commit. Throughout this period, we have politically fought against this course, counterposing a policy based firmly on the class struggle.
As the main speaker at the rallies, Rachel Wolkenstein, counsel for the U.S. Partisan Defense Committee (associated with the Spartacist League/U.S.), emphasized the states determination to kill Mumia or lock him away for life. The capitalist rulers, she explained, see in Mumia defiant opposition to their system of racist oppression. This means quite literally that Mumia is a dead man on leave as far as the state is concerned. As a member of Mumias legal team from 1995 to 1999, Wolkenstein, along with Jonathan Piper, another attorney associated with the PDC, was instrumental in uncovering evidence of his innocence. Most notably this included the sworn confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, shot and killed Faulkner.
With Mumias case on a legal fast track, liberal and reformist forces have been increasing their activity around his case, seeking in the main to block developments toward class-struggle defense based on a Marxist understanding of the capitalist state and its legal system. As we reported in Class-Struggle Defense vs. Faith in Capitalist Justice (WV No. 892, 11 May), such types include the writers David Lindorff and Michael Schiffmann, who have issued books that profess to support Mumias legal battles but challenge key evidence of his innocence, centrally the Arnold Beverly confession. These authors also cast doubts on Mumias unambiguous May 2001 statement: I did not shoot Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. I had nothing to do with the killing of Officer Faulkner. I am innocent.
Our article noted that the core purpose for Lindorff and Schiffmann is to undermine the fact of Mumias innocence and the extent and depth of the frame-up carried out by the forces of the state, who want to see him dead. The statements by Beverly and Mumia, along with a July 2001 affidavit submitted by Wolkenstein to state and federal courts and other supporting affidavits, are included in the PDC pamphlet The Fight to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal—Mumia Is Innocent! (now available in French and German as well as English). As Wolkenstein told the rallies, the Beverly evidence exposes the fraud that the American bourgeois legal system can provide justice. Wolkenstein put the issue squarely:
To free Mumia now, to save him from execution or the slow death of a lifetime in prison, it is necessary to organize on the basis of a class-struggle defense. While that means utilizing all possible legal proceedings, class-struggle defense is based on an understanding of the nature of the capitalist state that puts no reliance on its courts but relies on the power of the mobilization of the working class and its allies.
The May 5 rally, held at the University of London Union, drew more than 90 people. Speakers included three trade-union representatives: Paul Moffat, Eastern Region Secretary of the Communication Workers Union; Glenroy Watson, Chair of the Finsbury Park branch of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union and General Secretary of Global Afrikan Congress; and Stephen Hedley, also an RMT member. Moffat stressed the duty to expose the conspiracy to commit coldblooded, premeditated murder of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Indicating the wide resonance for Mumias case among trade unionists, the Scottish Trades Union Congress passed a motion in April declaring That this Congress believes that Mumia Abu-Jamal should be freed immediately from prison, as he is innocent, and the inherently racist death penalty should be abolished.
Other speakers included civil liberties lawyers Gareth Peirce and Matthew Ryder. The two are particularly known today for opposing repression carried out in the name of the war on terror, under whose rubric the U.S. and British rulers have waged devastating wars in Afghanistan and Iraq while taking the ax to democratic rights at home.
The rally, chaired by the PDCs Kate Klein, began with taped greetings from Mumia and a showing of the PDC video From Death Row, This Is Mumia Abu-Jamal. Klein explained that in Britain the PDC was launched in 1989 with the campaign to raise funds for the civilian victims of Jalalabad in Afghanistan following Mikhail Gorbachevs treacherous withdrawal of Soviet troops, which left the civilians to face the revenge of the CIA-backed mujahedin. In regard to Mumia, Klein stated, the kind of pressure that will have an impact on the courts is the social power of the multiracial workers movement worldwide demanding freedom for this innocent man. Later in the program, Eibhlin McDonald of the Spartacist League/Britain stressed that campaigning for Mumia is an opportunity to deal a blow against both the U.S. ruling class that wants to see him dead and the special relationship that unites British and U.S. imperialism.
Several speakers drew parallels between Mumias case and the anti-Irish frame-ups conducted by the British capitalist state. Gareth Peirce noted that she has sent many faxes in the middle of the night on behalf of Mumia in the past. Not just for myself. Ive added the names of Gerry Conlon, Paddy Hill, Billy Power, Paddy Armstrong, referring to the Guildford Four—innocent people framed up in Britain in the 1970s for an IRA bombing—whom Peirce defended. She added that the campaign for Mumia could not have sustained itself over all these years if there was not an absolute understanding of the integrity and truth and justice of what it was saying, and of the man it was saying it about.
Stephen Hedley commented, I come from the north of Ireland, which is still occupied under British rule. The Mumia video, he said, reminded me of home. Hedley noted that the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland was inspired by the black civil rights movement in the U.S. and that the American states intent to kill Mumia is similar to the British states treatment of anyone who raises his head above the parapet. In Northern Ireland, this includes collusion between the police and the Loyalist paramilitaries to take out not only political activists but also lawyers who defended those activists. While making clear that he has political differences with the PDC, Hedley commended the rally as a very, very good example of awareness raising.
A number of speakers hammered on the need to fight the rulers equation of political opposition with terrorism. Wolkenstein pointed out that the PDC took up Mumias case some 20 years ago because of both its opposition to the death penalty on principle and its struggle against the states branding of political opponents as terrorists. Both the Black Panther Party, of which Mumia was a leading member in his youth, and the MOVE organization, which he supports, were considered the terrorists of their time, which meant that the state could simply blow them away in the dead of the night or frame up their supporters on vague conspiracy charges. Matthew Ryder, who was among those who spoke out for Mumia in 1995, noted that invoking terrorism creates a permanent state of emergency and a permanent state of fear. Under the guise of fighting terrorism, the most extreme forms of state political action can be sanctioned.
It was the question of relying on the capitalist courts for justice for Mumia that sparked controversy during the discussion period. Wolkenstein had noted in her presentation that when the bulk of the opportunist left in the U.S.—the Workers World Party, Socialist Action, the International Socialist Organization (affiliated at the time with the Socialist Workers Party in Britain)—took up Mumias cause, particularly during and after the mass protests in 1995, they rejected mobilizing around the call to free him. Instead, they organized centrally around the demand for a new trial. Many of these socialist groups now raise freedom for Mumia in conjunction with demanding a new trial. But their politics remain in the framework of reliance on the bourgeois state, a program directly counterposed to mobilizing working-class power for Mumias freedom.
Speaking from the floor, Niki Adams of Legal Action for Women argued that she and others are calling for a new trial because we are taking our direction from Mumia, who is working very closely with his lawyer, Robert Bryan. Adams made clear who this call is geared toward when she told a May 17 protest in London, held on the day of Mumias court hearing: The demand for a new trial brings in people that may not be convinced about Mumias innocence but can see the trial was deeply unjust.
Adams comments were a pristine expression of the strategy that had earlier demobilized Mumias supporters. We pointed out last issue in Class-Struggle Defense vs. Faith in Capitalist Justice that the reformist left years ago adopted the approach argued by Adams in a bid for a mainstream audience and for allies in the capitalist Democratic Party. We wrote: At bottom, the new trial slogan is an appeal to liberals who see Mumias case not as the frame-up of an innocent man but as an isolated miscarriage of justice
. These groups obstruct the development of a defense movement based on the understanding that it is the class nature and racial bias of the capitalist state that is behind the cops and courts virulent hatred of Mumia, and that the road to winning his freedom lies in class-struggle defense.
At the rally, Wolkenstein replied to Adams that while we vigorously oppose the strategy of reliance on the capitalist state, we have always supported scrupulous legal work on Mumias behalf. In fact, she said, The current legal actions in Mumias case come from the work that I and Jon Piper did—the people on the legal team who are associated with the Partisan Defense Committee. Refuting Adams claim that those who call for a new trial are following Mumias lead, Wolkenstein stated, I have known and worked with Mumia Abu-Jamal since February 1987. I visit him regularly—before I became his lawyer, when I became his lawyer, after I stopped being his lawyer, including a week ago. He knows perfectly well every word I said here. She continued, He sent greetings to this rally, brief though they were, making the point that he was fighting for his freedom. That is not an accident.
Wolkenstein pointed out that in earlier struggles on behalf of class-war prisoners, the call wasnt New trial for the Guildford Four, or for Angela Davis, or Huey Newton. In regard to calls for unity, she explained that we advocate united-front defense—common actions around agreed-upon slogans with full freedom of criticism. In our opinion, she continued, the unifying theme is Free Mumia. Mumia is an innocent man. Abolish the racist death penalty! It was around such slogans that the PDC mobilized a contingent for the May 17 demonstration outside the U.S. Embassy in Grosvenor Square, making up almost a third of the 100 people there.
More than 100 people turned out for the May 12 rally at the IG Metall union hall. The political debate actually began at a protest for Mumia just hours earlier, when supporters of the KfsV and the Spartakist Workers Party (SpAD) mobilized a contingent that included at its peak a third of the crowd of 300. A principal leader of the protest was Michael Schiffmann, who made clear that the class-struggle views of the KfsV and SpAD were not to be heard from the stage of the rally. A banner placed prominently near the stage read: Stop the Execution of Mumia—For a Fair, New Trial.
Many came right from the protest to the KfsV rally, which drew several political exiles in addition to trade unionists and leftists and heard greetings from the Democratic Kurdish Center (Berlin Brandenburg). No stranger to bourgeois repression, the Kurdish group could not come because it was staging a protest at that time in defense of Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the Kurdish nationalist PKK who is imprisoned in Turkey.
In explaining the KfsVs aim of class-struggle, non-sectarian defense, Werner Brand pointed to its history of defending anti-fascist militants and victims of the anti-Communist witchhunt that followed the capitalist reunification of Germany in 1990, including Markus Wolf, Heinz Kessler and many others. His comments drew applause, including from former members of the East German Stalinist party, the SED.
Gert Julius, chairman of the Tempelhof/Schöneberg local of the DGB union federation and a representative of the Coalition for Social Justice and Human Dignity, referred to a statement by Karl Marx that the prevailing opinion in society is always the opinion of the rulers. Julius went on, He should have added that the prevailing legal decisions are always the legal decisions of the rulers. He applauded the work of Mumias present lawyer, Robert Bryan, and advocated using all humanly possible forms of defense, a sentiment shared by all in the room. From its reformist standpoint, an article in the leftist newspaper junge Welt (14 May) used Julius remarks as a counterpoint to the speech by Rachel Wolkenstein which, it reported, polemicized unmistakably against the demand for a new trial and the reformist left that tries to limit the protests by appealing for support from bourgeois-liberal forces.
At the protest earlier that day, German Communist Party (DKP) representative Michael Czech informed our comrades that he was ordered by his party not to address the KfsV rally on the spurious grounds that Mumia fired Rachel and that the Beverly confession was our invention—lies that were sharply refuted at the rally. Speaking in his own name, Fritz Ditmar, a member of the Hamburg district leadership of the DKP, declared, I dont believe a revolutionary can get a fair trial from a bourgeois court. He said that what is possible is to achieve a fair decision by mobilizing pressure on the street, outside of the courts, until that pressure is so great that the court, with clenched teeth, desists from bending the law.
Representing the SpAD Central Committee, Steffen Singer placed the fight to free Mumia in the context of the struggle to build a revolutionary workers party and the fight for new October Revolutions. He recounted the proud record of the SpAD and the International Communist League in East Germany and the Soviet Union, where we fought to mobilize the proletariat against capitalist counterrevolution and for workers political revolution. These comments drew some catcalls from individuals demanding to know what this had to do with Mumias cause. Singer responded:
What we are talking about here is also the so-called death of communism, this ideology that has had such a massive impact on the left and stamps the whole struggle for Mumia Abu-Jamals freedom. Can you imagine that before the destruction of the Soviet Union the leftists would have called for a fair trial, which is a retreat from the tradition of the workers movement from the time of the Haymarket martyrs?
An important debate took place over the role of the police in capitalist society and whether they should have any place in the unions. In his summary comments, Gert Julius intoned that from his trade-union standpoint one shouldnt use the blanket label of Bullen [cops] for the police. Admitting that he saw few possibilities of advancing class consciousness in the proletariat at this time, Julius stated that trade unions are for everyone. He finished with my call: Leftists of the world, dont curse each other but unite.
Singer responded: As Marxists, we understand that being—that what you do—determines consciousness. And the task of the police is indeed to carry out, with arms, the laws of the bourgeoisie, its rule. In practice, you can see that in any strike. Singer observed that at a recent strike against the Infineon company in Munich, the cops advanced with weapons drawn against the picket lines. These are the paid, trained strikebreakers for the bourgeoisie. That is their job. He continued: Who carries out deportations? Who breaks strikes? Who beats up demonstrators? Who carried out the raids [earlier in May] against the G8 leftists [who had been planning protests against the Group of Eight imperialist summit scheduled for early June in northern Germany]? The police! That is the organized violence of the class enemy. They have no place in the workers movement!
In response to questions raised at the rally, Rachel Wolkenstein shot down the rumors that she was fired in 1999 by Mumia from his legal team, which was then headed by Leonard Weinglass and Dan Williams, and that Mumia rejected the Beverly evidence. The key issue then was that Weinglass and Williams refused to put the Arnold Beverly testimony and related evidence before the courts. Wolkenstein remarked, Mumia was made promises by Len Weinglass and Dan Williams about pursuing this evidence, and they violated those agreements. There was nothing she could do about it, Wolkenstein continued, except remove myself from the case in the hopes that it would come forward. Otherwise I would have been a party to this massive betrayal of Mumia.
After Mumia fired Weinglass and Williams, his new attorneys at the time tried to put the Beverly confession before the courts. Wolkenstein recounted, Since 2001, when this was presented in court, every court—state court, federal court—has refused to hear anything about the evidence.
The importance of waging a class-struggle fight for Mumias freedom based on the massive evidence of his innocence was underscored in the discussion by the comments of a trade unionist who supports the views of the SpAD. Describing the resonance of Mumias case among his co-workers, he pointed out that the plants apprenticeship council, which is politically close to the Social Democratic Party and the union leadership, sabotaged a statement for Mumia by arguing that they were not sure he did not kill a cop, and that the statement could backfire against the union...and the company!
The current campaign to renew the fight for Mumias freedom has met with important expressions of support among trade unionists in the U.S. and internationally. Wolkenstein pointed to the need to turn such sentiments into labor action. Part of the importance of the fight for Mumia, she said, is to bring that understanding to the working class—that Mumias fight is their fight, and has to be a fight against the capitalist state. Parallel to the reformists in the movement, who stop people from understanding what Mumias case is about, is the labor bureaucracy, which actually has faith in the bourgeoisie to give them more workers rights and everything. She concluded: The fight for Mumia is the fight for black liberation, its the fight for socialist revolution.