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Workers Vanguard No. 900

12 October 2007

There Is No Justice in the Capitalist Courts!

Paris Rally Demands: Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!

PARIS—Some 70 people attended a September 29 rally in Paris called by the Comité de Défense Sociale (Committee for Social Defense—CDDS) demanding freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal, America’s foremost class-war prisoner. A former Black Panther, a journalist and a MOVE supporter, Mumia has spent more than a quarter of a century on death row following his frame-up conviction on false charges of killing Philadelphia policeman Daniel Faulkner in December 1981. The CDDS is a non-sectarian legal and social defense organization associated with the Ligue Trotskyste de France, section of the International Communist League. The rally was part of an international campaign to revitalize mass, labor-centered protest on Mumia’s behalf at what could be the final stage of his legal proceedings.

The main rally speaker was Rachel Wolkenstein of the Partisan Defense Committee, a member of Mumia’s legal team from 1995 to 1999. Wolkenstein led the investigation that uncovered a mass of evidence of Mumia’s innocence, including the sworn confession of Arnold Beverly that he shot and killed Faulkner. Xavier Brunoy spoke on behalf of the LTF. The meeting was also addressed by Henri Alleg, a widely respected member of the French Communist Party (PCF), whose 1958 book La Question was a powerful account of his own imprisonment and torture by the French imperialists during the Algerian War. Also speaking were Daniel Carreno, assistant secretary of the SUD-TMT postal sorting workers union, and Jimmy Duclos, member of the SUD-Rail railway workers union in Paris.

Mumia’s case is at a critical juncture. On May 17, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on Mumia’s appeal; a decision could come at any time. Speakers at the rally—called under the slogans “Mumia Is Innocent! Immediate Freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal! Abolish the Racist Death Penalty!”—stressed the urgency of mobilizing now to win Mumia’s freedom. Myriam Benoît of the CDDS, who chaired the meeting, began by dedicating it to our beloved comrade Gérard Le Méteil, who died on September 3 in unknown circumstances after having been taken into police custody on a trivial charge. Benoît declared: “This meeting represents his work as well. He fought to the end for freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal, and we are continuing his fight.” She continued, “Black oppression in the United States is rooted in slavery. The state seeks to execute Mumia by a legal lynching in order to send a message to all those who oppose this racist system.”

A theme throughout the meeting was the commonality between the fight to free Mumia and the fight against political frame-ups and racist oppression, not only in the United States but in France as well. The right-wing government of Nicolas Sarkozy has thrown down the gauntlet to the workers movement, attacking the very right to strike and threatening to slash workers’ gains, from pensions to the state health care system. In timeworn divide-and-rule fashion, the Sarkozy government has stepped up the French rulers’ racist anti-immigrant campaign as a way to undercut class struggle against these attacks. While the cops spread racist terror in the banlieues (minority ghettos), a vicious law is being prepared that would raise further barriers to immigration and even introduce DNA testing for those seeking to be reunited with family members in France.

Henri Alleg, who had been a longtime member of the Algerian Communist Party and editor of its journal Alger Républicain, sharply indicted the “democratic” pretensions of French capitalism. Making a comparison to Mumia’s frame-up, Alleg recalled repeated cases during the Algerian War when nationalist and Communist militants were sentenced to death, often on the basis of false confessions extracted under torture. Noting the widespread use of torture by many countries, including the U.S. in Iraq and elsewhere, Alleg declared: “Today, I would say that in some ways it is worse…since it is no longer denied that there has been torture. Rather, laws are adopted that consider it normal!” Alleg concluded:

“I believe that more than ever voices must be raised everywhere to link what is happening in the particular case of Mumia, who has been sentenced despite his absolute innocence, who has been sentenced because he is black, because he is a revolutionary, because he fights, because he has the talent to explain what is taking place….

“It is the duty of all of us to speak of all this to those around us and to participate, whatever our fundamental philosophy, even if there are things and people—there are some here—with which and with whom I personally do not agree. But the thing I do agree with is to fight along with you so that Mumia gets justice.”

The participation of trade unionists served to highlight the kind of working-class social power that can and must be mobilized to secure Mumia’s freedom. From the chair, Benoît read several union statements, all of which underlined Mumia’s innocence. In his remarks, Duclos reported that many of his fellow railway workers are easily convinced that Mumia is a political prisoner and victim of racist repression. “But,” he continued, “when it is a question of denouncing the racism that exists in France, when we speak of the justifiable revolt of the banlieues that took place in 2005 following the deaths of Zyed and Bouna [youths of African origin], here the coworkers express their disagreement.” Duclos noted a certain tendency, especially among older workers, to see France, where the death penalty has been abolished, as more democratic than the U.S.

Responding to a question from the floor, the LTF’s Xavier Brunoy declared that the death penalty in France “was officially abolished in 1981 by the government of [Socialist president] Mitterrand. But if you look at the number of youth who have died since 1981 in the police stations of France, you see that the death penalty is concretely applied by the cops.” A woman who has been active in housing sans-papiers (undocumented workers) recalled the recent case of an immigrant youth who almost died when he fell from a window while trying to escape a police roundup.

In his speech, Brunoy emphasized: “Exploitation and racist oppression are integral to the capitalist profit system. The phony socialists and pseudo-revolutionaries would have the workers believe that capitalism can be reformed so that it serves the interests of all classes.” Brunoy warned against illusions in the popular front which ties workers to their class enemy, the bourgeoisie, noting: “In France, alliances of bourgeois workers parties like the PCF and the Socialist Party with bourgeois parties, whether it is the Radicals in 1936 or the Greens and today the Chevènementistes [followers of ultra-chauvinist politician Jean-Pierre Chevènement], have for decades been the archetype of class collaboration.” He also exposed PCF senator Nicole Borvo for joining in the anti-Communist chorus against China, in which the imperialists and their lackeys bleat about “human rights” as a pretext for “a program of capitalist counterrevolution in China which would liquidate the gains of the 1949 Revolution.”

Brunoy stated that “the working class in this country will never be able to carry out a revolution if it does not hold high the banner of the struggle against racist terror and defense of immigrants and their children,” concluding that what is necessary above all is “united struggle of the multiethnic working class under the leadership of a multiethnic revolutionary party. The French section of the ICL is dedicated to building such a party.”

The social power of labor must be mobilized behind Mumia’s cause based on the massive evidence of his innocence and the understanding that he is the victim of a racist, political frame-up. Yet many of the liberals and reformists active around Mumia’s case have sought to block developments toward class-struggle defense based on a Marxist understanding of the capitalist state and its legal system. A September statement on the Web site of the PCF-supported United National Committee to Support Mumia Abu-Jamal makes this plain. It states that the organization “declined the invitation to speak at this meeting, judging it inappropriate to publicly polemicize with an organization which denounces ‘attempts to misdirect the struggle for Mumia toward the bourgeois injustice system’.” As the CDDS rally call pointed out, such misdirection is precisely the program behind the February 2006 call in the PCF’s L’Humanité, signed by hundreds of notables and politicians, for “a new fair trial.” For good measure the United National Committee statement expresses the pious hope that “the Federal Appeals Court recognize the denial of justice which led to the death sentence.”

We vigorously oppose the strategy of reliance on the capitalist state. At the same time, we have always supported scrupulous legal work on Mumia’s behalf. The PCF and other groups have tried to pass off their strategy of building protests around the “new trial” call as in accordance with Mumia’s wishes. At a May PDC rally in London, Wolkenstein refuted this argument: “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.” As Carreno declared in his remarks at the CDDS rally, “To demand a new trial is to accept the hypothesis of Mumia’s guilt despite the multiple proofs of his innocence.”

The United National Committee’s statement complained that Mumia’s struggle “has nothing to gain by political quarrels of this type.” In fact the opposite is the case. It’s unfortunate that this group did not participate in the rally and argue for its views, as such debate is necessary to clarify the way forward in the fight for Mumia’s freedom. They bleat about “unity,” but what they mean by this has nothing in common with genuine united-front defense: mobilizing in action on agreed-upon slogans with full freedom of criticism. At a forum at the PCF’s September L’Humanité Fête, the moderator tried to prevent Myriam Benoît from speaking when she began to announce the September 29 CDDS meeting. Some PCF members spoke of freedom for Mumia, but the forum title put it differently: “80 Years After the Execution of Sacco & Vanzetti, Will Mumia Abu-Jamal Finally Get a New Trial to Defend His Innocence?”

At the CDDS rally, Wolkenstein exposed the deadly illusions in the capitalist state that underpin the calls for a new trial:

“The argument is made by these liberals and reformists that the political movement for Mumia must be restricted to what the lawyers do, to the confines of bourgeois court proceedings. They argue that to demand Mumia’s freedom, to assert his innocence and that he should not have spent one day in jail, that bourgeois legality is class and race biased, is divisive.”

The policy of class-struggle defense means no illusions in capitalist injustice and all faith in the power of the masses. This understanding is the key to victory in the struggle for Mumia’s freedom. We print below excerpts, slightly edited for publication, from Wolkenstein’s presentation.

* * *

Rachel Wolkenstein,
Partisan Defense Committee

In the history of the working class, the causes of class-war prisoners have often defined entire political generations. August 23 marked the 80th anniversary of the executions of Italian immigrants, anarchist workers Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in the U.S. in 1927, a case that reverberated, and continues to do so, around the world. Today, we are on the eve of a legal decision in the case of Mumia, whose cause as a black radical activist and journalist sentenced to death for his political beliefs and activities is the cause of our generation. Mumia’s case parallels that of Sacco and Vanzetti, both legally and politically. It is at our peril and at the risk of Mumia’s very life that we do not learn from that history. [See “Lessons of the Fight to Free Sacco and Vanzetti,” WV Nos. 897 and 898, 31 August and 14 September.]

Sacco and Vanzetti were among the anarchists targeted for repression by the U.S. government during the Red Scare following the Russian Revolution. Mumia had been targeted by the FBI and Philadelphia cops from the time he was a 15-year-old spokesman for the Black Panthers, also earning their wrath for his later defense of the MOVE organization. Mumia’s frame-up conviction was part of the legal and political offensive of the U.S. government following its defeat in Vietnam and the onset of the Reagan years.

Both cases featured trials presided over by judges openly biased against the defendants. In 1924, after denying a motion for a new trial for Sacco and Vanzetti, Judge Webster Thayer said, “Did you see what I did with those anarchistic bastards the other day?” At the time of Mumia’s 1982 trial, Judge Albert Sabo was overheard by a court reporter boasting, “I’m going to help them fry the n----r.”

Everything used to convict Sacco and Vanzetti—jury-rigging, concealment of evidence, coercion of witnesses, phony ballistics, use of the defendants’ political background to inflame the jury—would be replicated in Mumia’s trial 60 years later. Prosecutor Joseph McGill argued to the nearly all-white jury that Mumia’s Black Panther Party membership 12 years earlier proved that he had been planning to kill a cop.

The most spectacular evidence that Sacco and Vanzetti and later Mumia did not commit the crimes for which they were sentenced to death consisted of the confessions of professional criminals exonerating them. And in both cases, the courts threw out the evidence. In November 1925, Celestino Medeiros, in prison awaiting an appeal for his 1924 conviction for murdering a bank guard, passed a note to Sacco stating, “I hear by confess to being in the south Braintree shoe company crime and Sacco and Vanzetti was not in said crime.” Medeiros subsequently swore an affidavit stating that the robbery was carried out by a gang, which was wanted for a series of freight train robberies. Although the gang members fit the descriptions given by the witnesses to the robbery, the appeals court dismissed Medeiros’ confession.

In 1999, Arnold Beverly swore a confession that he, and not Mumia, shot and killed Officer Faulkner. According to Beverly, he was hired, along with someone else, to do so by cops and the mob because Faulkner was a problem for corrupt cops, interfering with rackets, bribery, drug dealing, etc. Beverly’s testimony is supported by a mountain of evidence and ties together loose threads previously unexplained: the trajectory of the bullets, how Mumia was shot, the person wearing a green army jacket seen by five witnesses, including two cops, and much more. Beverly had sworn his confession in 1999 to me, while I was on Mumia’s legal team and in charge of the investigation. I resigned that year when Mumia’s lead attorney, Leonard Weinglass, suppressed Beverly’s confession. Two years later, Weinglass was fired by Mumia for violating client confidences. In 2001 Mumia’s new lawyers submitted the Beverly confession and supporting evidence to state and federal courts, which would not even consider it.

Up to the day of Sacco and Vanzetti’s execution, the International Labor Defense (ILD), the U.S. affiliate of the International Red Aid, which was established by the Communist International, waged a tireless fight for unity in action, based on the class struggle, on behalf of Sacco and Vanzetti. The ILD supported using any legal means available for Sacco and Vanzetti. But as James P. Cannon, a leader in the Communist Party and head of the ILD, insisted, the fight for Sacco and Vanzetti had to be taken to the “supreme court of the masses.” Those who relied on bourgeois justice carried out an offensive against the ILD and CP with slanders, exclusion of the ILD and CP supporters from events called by others and even physical attacks.

The ILD publicized Sacco and Vanzetti’s struggle and organized rallies and political strikes to demand their freedom. The ILD mobilized on the basis of the united front, seeking maximum unity in struggle of the various organizations standing for defense of Sacco and Vanzetti while giving a thorough airing of the political differences between the CP/ILD and others. The slogan “march separately, strike together” embodies the two aims of the united-front tactic: class unity and the political fight for an authentic communist program.

The ILD waged a hard political battle against those who threw up obstacles to class-struggle defense of Sacco and Vanzetti. Today we face similar obstacles, and then some, in our effort to mobilize labor-centered protest to demand Mumia’s freedom on the basis that he is an innocent man. The Sacco and Vanzetti case occurred in a period marked by the October Revolution, which inspired militant fighters around the world and drew a sharp dividing line between those who defended the Soviet Union and those who sided with the capitalist rulers.

Today’s world is profoundly shaped by the impact of the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet workers state in 1991-92, following decades of Stalinist betrayal. As the bourgeois rulers proclaim the lie of the “death of communism,” the bulk of the left, which in the main joined in the imperialists’ anti-Soviet campaigns, places its political activity solidly within the framework of the so-called “democratic” capitalist order.

Thus, whereas in Sacco and Vanzetti’s case it was the prosecution who vilified the Medeiros confession, today many liberals and reformist leftists among Mumia’s professed defenders sling mud at the Beverly confession and even cast doubt on Mumia’s own statement that he did not shoot Daniel Faulkner. Why would Mumia’s ostensible defenders be agnostic on Mumia’s innocence and attack the Beverly confession? It is because the Beverly evidence makes clear that Mumia’s frame-up was not the action of one rogue cop, prosecutor or judge but the entire functioning of the capitalist system of injustice.

Liberals want to “clean up” the capitalist system and get rid of its “excesses.” But in Mumia’s case, the frame-up of a black activist is no “excess”—it’s what the death penalty in racist America is all about. The Marxist understanding is that the courts, cops, prisons and armed forces are core components of the capitalist state—a machinery of organized violence to protect the rule and profits of the exploiting class. This understanding is directly contrary to the bourgeois-liberal framework of those who embrace the very “justice” system that at every level has declared, as in the infamous Dred Scott case upholding slavery in the U.S., that Mumia has no rights that it is bound to respect.

In 1995, when the first death warrant was issued, there were protests around the world based on support for Mumia’s cause, heavily based on trade unions that represented millions. From South Africa to France and even in the U.S. there were mobilizations built on the basis that Mumia’s frame-up conviction was political and racist, that his death sentence was the call for racist legal lynching. Out of those mobilizations and with each new piece of evidence of Mumia’s innocence and the state frame-up, a powerful labor-centered, international campaign demanding Mumia’s freedom could have been built. The very particulars of Mumia’s case provide powerful lessons that his struggle for freedom must be based on the independent action of the working class, acting with consciousness of its social power to withhold its labor, to shut down industry, communications and transportation. Mumia’s case has the power to deepen workers’ militancy, class solidarity and the recognition that the fight for black rights, immigrant rights and to end exploitation and oppression is one fight.

Instead, the campaign for Mumia was demobilized by left organizations and reformist groups by subordinating the call for Mumia’s freedom to the call for a new trial. At bottom, the “new trial” slogan is an appeal to liberals who see Mumia’s case not as the frame-up of an innocent man but as an isolated “miscarriage of justice.” They have sought to appeal to those in the “mainstream” who see the legal hell that Mumia has been put through as a stain on the image of American “justice.” Or in Europe, to counterpose the supposed greater democracy of the European bourgeoisie to that of the U.S.

“New trial” is shorthand for a program of reliance on the capitalist class, its politicians and its courts to afford justice to fighters for the oppressed. This retarded the political understanding of those who joined the struggle, and ultimately it demobilized the movement for Mumia’s freedom. By preaching that the next court would be the court that would give Mumia a new, fair trial, it also demoralized those youth and workers who initially joined the fight for Mumia seeing in his fight their own fight against “the system” as they understood it. And it is the role of the reformists on the left—from the Communist Party in France to the minuscule left groups in the U.S.—to keep the working class and its allies tied to the idea of the inviolability of the state.

The reason that Mumia is still facing death or the living death of life imprisonment is that the capitalist injustice system—supported by both parties of American capitalism, Democrats as well as Republicans—is intended to intimidate, silence and punish those who raise their voices and actions in opposition. This is another lesson of the Sacco and Vanzetti case. The determination of the bourgeoisie to kill Mumia or imprison him for life is no less than it was for the two anarchist martyrs.

James Cannon noted that “the industrial masters of America” who had carried out the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti to deal a blow to the entire labor movement “were not without allies, both conscious and unconscious, in the camp of the workers themselves.” “Sacco and Vanzetti will have died in vain,” he wrote, “if the real meaning and the causes of their martyrdom are not understood in all their implications.” These lessons are indeed of crucial importance in the struggle against capitalist repression today and are posed with particular urgency now in the fight to free Mumia Abu-Jamal.

We don’t need or want any more martyrs. Mumia must not become a martyr to the racist viciousness of American capital. In 1995 it was the international mobilizations, including the working class, that stayed Mumia’s death warrant. The power to free Mumia exists in the international working class. Our task is to fight to unleash that power. Free Mumia now!


Workers Vanguard No. 900

WV 900

12 October 2007


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