Workers Vanguard No. 906
18 January 2008
Germany: Anti-Communists Undermine Fight to Free Mumia
We reprint below a 27 December 2007 statement by the Committee for Social Defense (KfsV), a fraternal organization of the Partisan Defense Committee. The KfsV is associated with the Spartakist Workers Party of Germany, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist).
The case of award-winning black journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, an innocent man who’s been on death row in Pennsylvania for over 25 years now, falsely convicted of killing Police Officer Daniel Faulkner, has reached a decisive phase. With a decision by the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals anticipated any day, a media blitzkrieg has been launched against Mumia by those who want to see him dead. This campaign is centered on the release of the lying tract Murdered by Mumia by Maureen Faulkner, the widow of the police officer of whose killing Mumia was falsely convicted, and right-wing radio broadcaster Michael Smerconish.
The offensive by Faulkner and Smerconish once again lays bare what the Partisan Defense Committee and its fraternal organizations internationally—in Germany, the Committee for Social Defense—have repeatedly emphasized in our efforts to revitalize the international protest movement: Mumia’s frame-up was political. Just like the racist, corrupt court that railroaded him to death row, Faulkner and Smerconish claim that Mumia’s earlier membership in the Black Panther Party and his continuing support for the MOVE organization show that he had planned for years to kill a cop. A successful fight to free Mumia would be a huge victory for the struggle to abolish the racist death penalty, which in the U.S. is a legacy of chattel slavery. More broadly, winning Mumia’s freedom would be a blow against racist, capitalist oppression internationally.
When Faulkner and Smerconish appeared on NBC’s Today show on 6 December 2007, our comrades of the Partisan Defense Committee joined with other groups of Mumia’s supporters to refute their lies, participating in a protest called by the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition (NYC). As Faulkner and Smerconish attempted to grease the skids for Mumia’s legal lynching, a crowd of some 100 protesters outside the NBC building in New York chanted, “Mumia is innocent! Free him now!” Photos from the crime scene, which were recently unearthed by Michael Schiffmann and further expose and confirm the frame-up of Mumia, were shown by the Today show host, sending Smerconish into a fury. Following the protest, PDC counsel Rachel Wolkenstein stated, “There are two clearly defined sides: those who fight for Mumia’s freedom based on his innocence and the forces of racist ‘law and order’ led by the Fraternal Order of Police who seek his execution.”
It is in this context that a group called the Berliner Bündnis für Mumia [Berlin Coalition for Mumia], a coalition made up of the Berlin chapter of Rote Hilfe [Red Aid], the group Freiheit für Mumia Abu-Jamal [Freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal], the Mumia Abu-Jamal Hörbuchgruppe [Audiobook Group] associated with Michael Schiffmann, and others attack the KfsV. In November they issued a “Statement on the KfsV,” an anti-communist tirade against our fight for a class struggle movement to free Mumia (www.mumia-hoerbuch.de/bundnis.htm). Just what is the “ongoing problem” that led the Berlin Coalition to an “unfortunately necessary distancing from the KfsV”? They denounce us for insisting on Mumia’s innocence, for asserting that he is the victim of a racist frame-up, and for our “iron insistence on the demand for Mumia’s immediate release.” We plead guilty as charged!
The Coalition complains in its “Statement” that KfsV supporters attended meetings in April 2007 to fight for a genuine united-front protest (i.e., united in action with freedom of political criticism for all participants) on May 12 based on demands for Mumia’s freedom:
“Moreover they [the KfsV] demanded that the Coalition may only mobilize on the basis of these three slogans: Mumia Abu-Jamal is innocent! Freedom for Mumia! Down with the death penalty; that all participants in the coalition were obliged to recognize these three slogans; and that each group mobilize with its own leaflets and calls for the demonstration.”
The slogans listed above were agreed to by the participants at the first meeting of 1 April as the basis for a demonstration. This was overturned by Sabine Schubert from Freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal and representatives from the Audiobook Group at the next Coalition meeting on 10 April. According to Schubert, “Mumia is Innocent” was not acceptable to Amnesty International. The Coalition clearly states that the “main point of contention is the demand for a new, fair trial” which they uphold and we reject.
The call for a “new, fair trial” is shorthand for a program of reliance on the capitalist class, its politicians and its courts to grant justice to fighters for the oppressed. While it is necessary to utilize every legal avenue in Mumia’s defense, the movement for his freedom cannot rely on the same capitalist “justice” system that sent him to death row. This has been clearly shown in the concrete in Mumia’s case. In every legal action since Mumia’s conviction, the courts have denied the evidence of his innocence and of the state frame-up. That includes three evidentiary hearings, plus three motions and two appeals to the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court, a federal habeas corpus petition filed in the U.S. District Court, as well as three petitions to the U.S. Supreme Court. The state wants Mumia dead or behind bars for the rest of his life because—as a former Black Panther, a MOVE supporter and an eloquent opponent of U.S. imperialism, the “voice of the voiceless”—he represents the spectre of black revolt.
At bottom, the “new trial” slogan is an appeal to those who see Mumia’s case not as the frame-up of an innocent man but as an isolated “miscarriage of justice.” The Coalition thus works to confine Mumia’s supporters to reliance on the capitalist courts and appeals to the liberal “mainstream,” like Amnesty International. To make the demand for a “new, fair trial” a perspective for the movement for Mumia’s freedom means reaching out to those liberals who question Mumia’s innocence, who would be content if he were condemned to a living death, who just want the frame-up to gain the appearance of “fairness” and “due process.” The Coalition seeks 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 a deviation from European “constitutional” democracy. Preaching that the next court is the court that will grant Mumia a new, fair trial also demoralizes those youth and workers who initially joined the fight for Mumia because in his fight, they saw their own fight against “the system” as they understood it and have experienced it firsthand.
Only the power of a mass movement with a central working-class component can force the capitalist courts to back down and grant Mumia’s freedom. To build that movement we must wage and win a political battle against illusions in capitalist “justice.”
The work of the KfsV, like that of our fraternal organizations internationally, stands in the class-struggle, non-sectarian tradition of communist defense work—of the International Red Aid of the early, revolutionary Comintern and especially of the International Labor Defense of the 1920s in the U.S., which was headed by James P. Cannon, founding member of the Communist Party and founder of American Trotskyism. As laid out by Cannon in the context of the fight for freedom for Italian anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti:
“One policy is the policy of class struggle. It puts the center of gravity in the protest movement of the workers of America and the world. It puts all faith in the power of the masses and no faith whatever in the justice of the courts. While favoring all possible legal proceedings, it calls for agitation, publicity, demonstrations—organized protest on a national and international scale. It calls for unity and solidarity of all workers on this burning issue, regardless of conflicting views on other questions.”
—“Who Can Save Sacco and Vanzetti?” Labor Defender, January 1927
This is the understanding with which we of the PDC and KfsV seek to revive mass protests for Mumia. We fight to bring this understanding to Mumia’s potential allies. The link between Mumia’s struggle for freedom and the fight against capitalist oppression is the starting point for our efforts to make Mumia’s case broadly known. In Germany over the past period, the KfsV has taken Mumia’s case to the GDL train drivers’ picket lines, as their strikes were the target of legal persecution from the bosses’ courts. We have participated in protests by Kurdish organizations, together with Turkish and German leftists, against the Turkish state’s offensive against the Kurds in northern Iraq. We made the link between Mumia’s defense, opposition to the Turkish army and the U.S.-led imperialist occupation of Iraq and the defense of the PKK and other Kurdish organizations that are banned and terrorized by the German and other capitalist governments in Europe.
We brought Mumia’s case to refugee groups protesting against racist terror and deportation and against the brutal conditions in the deportation jails of Berlin run by the capitalist SPD/Linkspartei [Social Democratic Party/Left Party] city government. We made a parallel with Mumia’s case when we defended the Autonomes and other leftists who have been subject to government persecution before, during and after the anti-G8 protests in June. We are currently mobilizing for emergency protests internationally in case the Third Circuit Court of Appeals rules to uphold the death penalty or denies Mumia’s appeal for a new trial or a new hearing. In the past two years, since Mumia’s case went on the so-called “fast track,” which led to last May’s court hearing, we have gathered some 800 signatures internationally of prominent personalities and organizations, above all of trade unions representing hundreds of thousands of workers, for the statement, “We Demand the Immediate Freedom of Mumia Abu-Jamal, an Innocent Man.”
You don’t have to be a Marxist to understand that Mumia is the victim of a racist frame-up, and in fact we actively seek to bring Mumia’s case to groups and individuals whose politics are very far from Marxism. That’s evident from the broad political spectrum represented by the signatories to the PDC protest statement mentioned above. But Mumia’s case demonstrates like no other today the racist, class character of the capitalist state. To prevent the development of a mass movement, in which blacks, immigrants, anti-racist youth and trade unionists are mobilized in struggle against this state, a host of liberals and reformists have latched on to Mumia’s case since the mid 1990s with the main aim of obscuring this fact. They are political obstacles to an effective movement for Mumia’s freedom, as shown by the demobilization since the late ’90s, a result of subordinating the fight for Mumia’s freedom to faith in the courts and the call for a “new, fair trial.” We seek to combat these political obstacles through forthright, open debate about the strategy needed to rebuild the movement for Mumia. This exposure of how the liberals and reformists have undermined the fight for Mumia’s freedom has earned us the wrath of those who are hostile to the perspective of a class-struggle movement for Mumia’s freedom.
That brings us back to the Coalition and their “ongoing problem” with us. What this group really has a “problem” with, as is clear from a quick read of their statement, is that too many people evidently identify with the work that the KfsV has been doing for many years in the fight for Mumia’s freedom and agree with us that he is the victim of a racist frame-up who should never have spent a single day in prison. Thus a good portion of their anti-KfsV screed consists of whining about the fact that we mobilized too many people for a pro-Mumia rally that they called on April 24!
What sends the Coalition into a rage is that we insist on Mumia’s innocence and on the need to bring the evidence proving it and exposing the massive frame-up to the masses. The Coalition denigrates the sworn confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, shot Faulkner because it lays bare the character of the racist capitalist state. This “scares off potentially approachable people,” i.e., the liberal and social-democratic “mainstream.” The Coalition even claims that evidence of Mumia’s innocence contradicts his defense:
“Upholding the statement of the supposed contract killer Arnold Beverly, who confesses to the murder for which Mumia is accused, as well as the iron insistence on the demand for his immediate freedom, contradict not only Mumia’s own defense strategy, but is juridically and for any practical purposes completely hopeless.
“That gives us the impression that they actually don’t care at all whether Mumia gets out of prison or not.”
They even go so far as to claim that evidence for Mumia’s innocence is “lethally dangerous for him”! This is the “Big Lie” par excellence, and is reminiscent of the Stalinist lie in the 1930s that Trotsky was an agent of the Gestapo because he fought for mobilizing the working class to smash the Nazis. As Trotsky remarked, even slander should make some sense!
To say that demanding Mumia’s immediate freedom and highlighting every piece of evidence demonstrating his innocence contradicts Mumia’s own wishes is truly breathtaking. Mumia himself declared, in a 3 May 2001 declaration describing what he saw in the early morning hours of 9 December 1981: “I did not shoot Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. I had nothing to do with the killing of Officer Faulkner. I am innocent.”
And on 12 July 1995, the date racist judge Albert Sabo denied a stay of Mumia’s death warrant, Mumia declared, “True justice requires more than a stay of execution—it requires a complete dismissal of this clearly political persecution! It requires more: it requires the committed mobilization of our communities to resist a system that is more repressive than South Africa’s—to abolish this racist death penalty! It requires freedom—for all MOVE prisoners, and all political prisoners of whatever persuasion! Now!”
What does the Coalition say about these statements by Mumia? Do they “contradict” his “own defense strategy”?
Why do we insist on the importance of the Beverly evidence, and why does the Coalition seek to discredit it? In an affidavit submitted in 2001, PDC counsel Rachel Wolkenstein detailed how Beverly’s confession fit together with the many other pieces of evidence exposing the frame-up:
“Beverly’s confession not only established Jamal’s innocence but also laid bare the extent and consciousness of police and prosecutorial misconduct in prosecuting and convicting Mumia Abu-Jamal and sentencing him to death for a crime he did not commit. Beverly’s account of the shooting did not stand alone but was supported by a wealth of information in the record
. Beverly’s account of being hired to kill Officer Faulkner was consistent with the fact that there were at least three ongoing FBI investigations of police corruption in the Center City area where Faulkner worked at the time of his murder, and that at least one other informant in those investigations was murdered. Beverly’s account of the shooting was also more consistent with the available physical evidence than the prosecution scenario of the shooting (which was physically impossible). Moreover, the claim that police hired Beverly (along with police political bias against Jamal) helped to explain the gross police and prosecutorial misconduct permeating the case.”
—Printed in the July 2006 PDC pamphlet, The Fight to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal—Mumia Is Innocent!
At bottom, the Beverly evidence shows that Mumia was the victim not of a rogue cop, bad prosecutor, or racist judge, but of an entire “justice” system in which the cops, prosecutors and courts act to uphold the class interests of the capitalist rulers. For some this will not be hard to understand. Think of the treatment by the German bourgeois state inflicted on the prisoners of the RAF [Red Army Faction]; on the PKK and other Kurdish organizations; on the striking GDL train drivers; remember the case of African refugee Oury Jalloh, who was burned alive in a police cell in Dessau in January 2005, while his hands and feet were bound. The bourgeois state is not neutral but rather the special instrument of the capitalist class to subjugate the working class and the oppressed. This understanding is crucial for building a powerful movement to free Mumia Abu-Jamal. The role of the reformist and petty-bourgeois left à la Audiobook Group/ Berlin Coalition is to prevent Mumia’s supporters from gaining this understanding.
This leads them to denigrate the Beverly evidence and even wrongly claim that Mumia himself rejects it. Mumia submitted the Beverly evidence to both the Pennsylvania state court and to the U.S. federal court in 2001. It is the same courts that have rejected even hearing the Beverly evidence. Mumia is fully informed of all the work the PDC does and has no objection to it. He sent greetings to the forum for Mumia hosted by the KfsV in May 2007 in Berlin, where Rachel Wolkenstein spoke.
Audiobook Group/Berlin Coalition also slander the PDC and Wolkenstein, who, with PDC lawyer Jon Piper, originally tracked down Beverly and took his confession in 1999. In a radio interview on 10 October for Jugendradio in Berlin, a member of the Berlin Coalition claimed that Wolkenstein was fired by Mumia “in 2002, I think.” Wolkenstein and Jon Piper both worked on Mumia’s legal team from 1995 until 1999, when they withdrew from the team because lead counsel Leonard Weinglass refused to present the Beverly confession and other vital evidence of Mumia’s innocence to the court. Mumia never fired Wolkenstein. He did fire Weinglass and Dan Williams in 2001 after learning of the publication by Williams of the book Executing Justice. The book was an unauthorized and lying account of the legal defense, calling the Beverly confession “insane” and any effort to use it “bona fide lunacy.” Williams’ book provided the sole basis of prosecution arguments for excluding this evidence from court! Today, Maureen Faulkner and Michael Smerconish rely heavily on this same book in order to scream for Mumia’s blood.
It is clear that the Audiobook Group and the Berlin Coalition are having some trouble selling the line of a “new, fair trial” for Mumia. This explains the shrill tone of their statement and their complaints that our arguments against the strategy of reliance on the capitalist courts have caused “confusion” among leftists. Furthermore, the denunciation of our “iron insistence on the demand for his immediate freedom” sounds all the stranger given the fact that the call for a pro-Mumia rally on 8 December 2007 by the Berlin Coalition itself demands that “Mumia be freed immediately.” Moreover on 8 December, a speaker from a Leonard Peltier solidarity group pointed out that Peltier fled the U.S. knowing that he would never get a fair trial. Indeed, he still languishes, seriously ill, in prison to this day—Free Leonard Peltier!
In order to assuage the doubts of many Mumia supporters who don’t like the “new trial” demand, Audiobook Group/Berlin Coalition purposely confuse legal procedures with the mobilization of a mass protest movement. But even on a strictly legal level it is simply false that Mumia’s only option to be freed is through a new trial. As Wolkenstein pointed out at the KfsV forum on 12 May 2007, Mumia’s case is so full of prosecutorial misconduct, suppression of evidence of his innocence, etc., that from a purely judicial standpoint, there is ample legal precedent for a dismissal of the charges. And even in prior legal petitions when Wolkenstein was co-counsel with Leonard Weinglass, Mumia’s legal filings contained the demand for dismissal of charges. Former Black Panther Geronimo Pratt walked out a free man in 1997 after 27 years in prison hell when the court reversed his frame-up conviction on the grounds that the prosecution had concealed evidence. Rubin “Hurricane” Carter got a “new trial” in 1976, and was convicted a second time on the basis of the lying testimony of two petty crooks by a carefully selected jury of ten whites and two blacks. If bourgeois justice were not class-biased, race-biased, if bourgeois justice were “fair” and “impartial,” Mumia would have long ago been released from prison. He would never have spent a day in jail.
The alternative to reliance on the capitalist courts is class-struggle defense. The only way that Mumia will get justice is if the courts fear the power of a mass movement, and especially the power of labor to strike for Mumia’s freedom. To get there, what is necessary is above all a political struggle against the very illusions in the capitalist “justice” system represented by the call for a “new, fair trial.” The call for a new trial is the politics of selling out, a betrayal of everything that Mumia’s case represents.
In Berlin, subordinating the fight for Mumia’s freedom to the “mainstream” means subordinating it to the SPD and Linkspartei tops, who as the government parties administer the capitalist state machinery. Even when the racist terror against refugees and their deportation is described, as in a speech presenting the anti-racist campaign DE*FENCE at the Berlin Coalition rally on 8 December, the SPD/Linkspartei government—which gives the commands and has just passed the most draconian police laws in the country, banned Kurdish demonstrations, etc.—is not mentioned by name. The strategy of reliance on the capitalist courts is counterposed to mobilizing the Turkish, Arab and Kurdish youth who are subject to the daily racist persecution of the Berlin Senate’s police, or the workers in public services who’ve had their contracts shredded by this government, with the understanding that Mumia’s fight for freedom is linked to fighting against their own oppression.
The Coalition discounts “class struggle” as something passé and utopian and reviles the very mention of “classes.” For them, an orientation to the “working class, which [can] stop the hangman” is almost communist. In chiming in with the “death of communism” choir that class struggle is utopian, that history is over, they are just reflecting the prevalent bourgeois ideology which is on the upsurge since the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union and the East European deformed workers states. This is also what they’re playing on with their red-baiting insinuations that the KfsV’s “‘background’ appears to be unknown in parts of the left and/or they seek to conceal it.” This obviously refers to the fact that the KfsV’s purpose is in accordance with the political views of the Spartakist Workers Party—a fact which is “concealed,” i.e., explicitly stated in print, in everything the KfsV publishes! This is reminiscent of the witchhunt by the CDU/CSU [Christian Democratic Union/Christian Socialist Union], members of the SPD and the Springer press against newly anointed Juso [youth group of SPD] chief Franziska Drohsel for her membership in the “left-extremist” organization Rote Hilfe. Drohsel solved her problem by quitting the Rote Hilfe. Where does Rote Hilfe stand on anti-communism in the Berlin Coalition?
Since they are worried about it, we are happy to recount some high points of our “background,” all of which can be found in our publications for those interested. The KfsV originated from an international campaign in the late ’80s, begun by the PDC in the U.S., for aid to the besieged fighters of Jalalabad in Afghanistan who were holding out against the mujahedin cutthroats which the CIA and other imperialist agents armed and funded as part of the Cold War II drive to destroy the Soviet Union. Later, in the ’90s, the KfsV defended former SED [ruling East German Communist Party] and PDS [Party of Democratic Socialism] members and other victims of the anti-Communist witchhunt following capitalist reunification. And of course, the KfsV is aligned with the Spartakists and the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), who fought in 1989-90 against the capitalist sellout of the DDR and for a red Germany of workers councils. And we brought Mumia’s case to the DDR as part of the fight against capitalist reunification. Since 1987, we’ve taken up the fight internationally for Mumia’s freedom as part of the fight for united, class-struggle defense of all the working people. Mumia is innocent! Free him now! Abolish the racist death penalty!