Workers Vanguard No. 914
9 May 2008
Partisan Defense Committee International Campaign
Protests Demand: Free Mumia Now!
On March 27, the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther, MOVE supporter and award-winning journalist known as the “voice of the voiceless,” who was framed up for the 1981 killing of Philadelphia policeman Daniel Faulkner and sent to death row solely for his political beliefs. Upholding an earlier 2001 federal court ruling, the appeals court decision means that either a new sentencing hearing will take place, in which the death sentence could be reinstated, or Mumia will be condemned to life imprisonment. This is an outrage! There is a mountain of evidence, which the courts have either rejected or refused to hear, that demonstrates that Mumia Abu-Jamal is an innocent man who should never have spent one day in prison!
In anticipation of the court decision, last summer the Partisan Defense Committee—a class-struggle, non-sectarian legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League—and the Labor Black Leagues called for emergency protests immediately after the ruling. These protests, which took place on March 28 and 29, were followed by united-front demonstrations called by the PDC, which has championed Mumia’s defense for over 20 years, and heavily built by the Spartacist League and other sections of the International Communist League. On April 19, some 200 demonstrators mobilized for the united-front protest in Oakland, while over 100 came out in London and in Toronto. United-front protests were also held in Sydney, Australia, on April 23, on the campus of the National Autonomous University (UNAM) in Mexico City on April 24, and in Chicago and Los Angeles on April 26.
In addition to the united-front protests, the PDC and the New York Labor Black League for Social Defense mobilized a Class-Struggle Contingent of some 150 people for the April 19 demonstration in Philadelphia called by the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal (ICFFMAJ), which drew some 600 protesters. The same day, the Committee for Social Defense (CDDS), the PDC’s fraternal defense organization in France, also built a contingent of over 60 people at a Paris protest that drew over 200 demonstrators, while our comrades of the Grupo Espartaquista de México, section of the ICL, participated in a protest of some 50 people in Mexico City. On April 12, the Committee for Social Defense (KfsV) in Germany had mobilized a Class-Struggle Contingent of 80 people in a demonstration called by the Berlin “Free Mumia Abu-Jamal” Coalition that drew about 300. These contingents marched under the slogans: “Mumia Abu-Jamal Is Innocent! Free Mumia Now! Abolish the Racist Death Penalty! There Is No Justice in the Capitalist Courts! Mobilize Labor’s Power—For Mass Protest!”
The united-front protests initiated by the PDC were called under the slogans: “Mumia Abu-Jamal Is Innocent! Free Mumia Now! Abolish the Racist Death Penalty!” Over 500 individuals and organizations, including trade unions representing hundreds of thousands of workers, endorsed the protests (for a list of endorsers, go to: www.partisandefense.org). An early endorsement came from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) Western Cape, which issued a statement declaring: “COSATU endorses the campaign to free Comrade ABU JAMAL
. We will stand with the millions of people across the world that are calling for justice to be done and will join the protest against this travesty of justice.” Other endorsers included the OPZZ Konfederacja Pracy (All-Poland Workers Trade Union Confederation of Labor) and the All-Workers Fighting Front (PAME) union federation of Greece, which is allied with the Communist Party. In Scotland, the Aberdeen Trades Union Council and the Scottish Trades Union Congress endorsed, with Grahame Smith, General Secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, declaring in his greetings to the protests that Mumia “should be freed immediately from prison. He is innocent, and the inherently racist death penalty should be abolished.”
Additionally, 40 trade-union locals in the U.S. and around the world endorsed the united-front protests. These locals represent workers in industries such as transport, waterfront, steel, auto, electrical and communications, as well as postal workers, teachers and campus workers. Scores of individual union leaders also endorsed as well as representatives of such organizations as the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the Coalition of Labor Union Women and the Latino Caucus of SEIU Local 721 in L.A.
The PDC also sought support for Mumia’s cause among students, antiwar and gay rights activists, minorities, immigrant communities, left organizations and other public figures. Endorsements for the united fronts were received from former Black Panther Party leaders Elaine Brown and David Hilliard, the head of the VVN-BdA (Association of the Victims of the Nazi Regime—Coalition of Anti-Fascists) in Berlin, South African actor Dr. John Kani, Cynthia McKinney (U.S. Green Party candidate for president) and well-known writers Cornel West, Gilles Perrault, Robert Allen, Michael Eric Dyson and Manning Marable. From Cuba, we received endorsements from author Celia Hart and Che Guevara’s daughter, Aleida Guevara March. A statement of solidarity was sent by Leonard Peltier, the longtime jailed American Indian Movement leader who remains unbowed in the face of a decades-long vendetta by the U.S. government. The protests were also built and attended by black nationalist groups in London, Chicago and Oakland, gay rights activists in Chicago, and others. Speakers included trade unionists, family members of slain Black Panthers and former Black Panthers facing frame-up charges today.
The PDC encouraged the endorsing organizations to issue their own calls for the demonstrations. All organizations that endorsed the protests were also invited to speak. Where participants took up the PDC’s invitation to express their own views, including raising political differences with other participants, a broad range of political viewpoints was aired, which only made more powerful the shared commitment to the urgent fight for Mumia’s freedom.
Reformists Demobilized a Mass Movement—Rebuild the Movement for Mumia!
What is vital is to turn the endorsements and statements of support from the international labor movement into labor action in the fight to free Mumia. We fight for a strategy of class-struggle defense, which must be based on the understanding that capitalist society is fundamentally divided between two hostile social classes—the capitalist exploiters and the working class—and that the capitalist state and its courts are organs of repression against working people and the oppressed. As PDC counsel Rachel Wolkenstein underlined at the Mexico City united-front protest:
“There is a power to fight against the state’s vendetta against Mumia. The power to make the courts yield, the power to set Mumia free rests in the international, multiracial, multiethnic working class that can stop production, transport and communication!... That power is represented in embryo by endorsers of this demonstration and those who have come out today! This power must be used to fight for Mumia, for all class-war prisoners, as part of turning economic struggles of the working people into political struggles leading to socialist revolutions around the globe.”
As part of this class-struggle strategy, the PDC has fought for genuine united-front action in Mumia’s defense. The united front is a tactic for common actions undertaken under the watchword, “march separately, strike together.” That means unity in action based on agreed-upon slogans and complete freedom of criticism—i.e., open debate about what strategy is needed to rebuild the movement for Mumia and fight for his freedom. As communists who participate in united-front actions, we never relinquish the obligation to say the truth as we see it. However, in the service of class collaboration, the Stalinists and social democrats have over the decades perverted the term united front, using it to mean a political bloc of opportunists who would not dream of openly raising criticisms of one another. Today, that means evading the political struggle necessary to move forward the fight to free Mumia.
In its April 8 “Open Letter to Fighters for Mumia’s Freedom” (reprinted in WV No. 912, 11 April), the PDC noted that the March 27 court ruling made it so clear that Mumia cannot get justice in the capitalist courts that “even those who have mobilized for many years on the basis that Mumia could get a ‘new, fair trial’ now proclaim that there should be no illusions in the American injustice system.” Prior to the April 19 ICFFMAJ demonstration in Philadelphia and the PDC-initiated united front in Oakland, the PDC approached the San Francisco Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal and the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition (NYC) to endorse the PDC-initiated protests and to turn the Philly protest into a genuine united front. But these proposals were rejected outright. As the PDC stated in its “Open Letter”:
“The frame-up of Mumia Abu-Jamal is a stark expression of the class and race bias of the capitalist courts and underlines the need for the multiracial working class to champion the fight for black liberation
“The call for a ‘new trial’ is based on a political program of reliance on the capitalist class, its politicians and courts to afford justice to fighters for the oppressed. Nobody ever called for a ‘new trial’ for Angela Davis, Huey Newton or Nelson Mandela. Had the political counterposition between our call to ‘Free Mumia’ and those advocating a ‘new trial’ been openly debated over the past decade, the movement for Mumia today would have been stronger and firmly based on the need to mobilize to free this innocent man
“The rejection of our urgent call for united-front action by the Mobe and the New York Coalition is political cowardice. At this urgent hour, they are subordinating the fight for Mumia’s freedom to their fear of political debate.”
Indeed, while numerous organizations and individuals endorsed the united-front protests, conspicuously absent were most of the left—with a few exceptions, such as the Freedom Socialist Party and the Internationalist Group (IG)—though we actively sought their endorsements and encouraged them to help build the protests. Supporters of the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP) and the Campaign to End the Death Penalty (dominated by the International Socialist Organization) showed up at the Chicago united-front protest, while supporters of Spark came to the one in Los Angeles. But all these organizations (and others) refused to endorse the united-front protests, which simply called for freedom for an innocent black political prisoner and an end to the racist death penalty (things that should be ABC to any decent liberal, let alone a self-professed socialist). As Marxists, we oppose the death penalty on principle everywhere, including in the deformed workers states—such as China—which we unconditionally militarily defend against imperialist attack and capitalist counterrevolution.
The reformists’ sectarianism is no accident. They bear responsibility for the demobilization of the movement in defense of Mumia, which used to mobilize protests of tens of thousands. It was international protest action, including with the support of trade unions around the world, that was crucial in staying the executioner’s hand in 1995 when a death warrant for Mumia was signed. But since 1995, groups such as Socialist Action, which before 1995 had barely said anything about Mumia’s case, have subordinated the fight to free Mumia to the call for a “new trial,” preaching the lie that Mumia would get justice from the very courts that have kept him behind bars.
As more and more evidence came out proving Mumia’s innocence, most of it uncovered by PDC counsel Rachel Wolkenstein and Jonathan Piper, who served on Mumia’s legal defense from 1995 to 1999, the reformist left increasingly discarded Mumia’s innocence and deepened their commitment to promoting illusions in American “justice.” This became explicit in a January 1999 “Emergency Leadership Summit Meeting,” where representatives of Socialist Action, Solidarity, Workers World Party (WWP), the Revolutionary Communist Party’s (RCP) Refuse & Resist, ICFFMAJ and others adopted a strategy that explicitly rejected the call to free Mumia and abolish the death penalty in favor of the call for a new trial.
This was part of a strategy to reach out “to the American mainstream,” as Solidarity’s Steve Bloom approvingly wrote in Against the Current (March/April 1999). The reformists actively buried and denigrated evidence of Mumia’s innocence, most notably the confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, killed Faulkner. In December 2001, U.S. District Court judge William Yohn overturned Mumia’s death sentence while affirming his frame-up conviction. This was a demoralizing blow to the advocates of a “new trial.” But rather than mobilizing on the call to free Mumia, they told activists to look to the next federal appeals court. This line was echoed by larger reformist forces internationally, such as the French Communist Party (PCF), as well as trade-union bureaucrats in the U.S.
The effect was devastating; a mass movement was demobilized. Why mobilize on the streets or in the unions if Mumia can get justice from the courts? As the KfsV, the PDC’s fraternal defense organization in Germany, stated in a polemic against the Berlin Coalition for Mumia (see “Germany: Anti-Communists Undermine Fight to Free Mumia,” WV No. 906, 18 January):
“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 first hand.”
A crucial part of the PDC’s ongoing international campaign is to undo the damage done by the reformists and rebuild the movement for Mumia. As we took Mumia’s case to campuses, we found that most youth today, even black students, had not even heard of him, unlike a decade ago. Equally telling, most of those who had heard of him thought he had already been freed, was about to be freed, or even that he had been executed.
The reformist left’s subordination of Mumia’s struggle to the bourgeois liberals and “progressive” Democrats is fundamentally no different from their treatment of other social struggles—such as that against the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the fight for immigrant rights, abortion rights, etc. These and more have been hitched to unseating the Republican majority in Congress—already accomplished in 2006—and to installing a Democrat in the White House this year.
This stems from the reformists’ opposition to the fight for socialist revolution to overthrow the capitalist order and their promotion of the lie that capitalism, through protest and pressure, can be reformed to serve the interests of working people and the oppressed. Thus, today the reformists, either explicitly or implicitly, seek to boost the fortunes of pro-death-penalty capitalist politician Barack Obama (or, to a far lesser extent, pro-death-penalty capitalist politician Hillary Clinton). Meanwhile, others are promoting “progressive” capitalist politician Cynthia McKinney, the presumptive nominee of the small-time capitalist Green Party.
In building for the April 19 Mumia protest in Philadelphia, the PDC set up a banner calling for Mumia’s freedom in the vicinity of the Obama rally on April 18. Spartacist comrades made clear our fight for the political independence of the working class from the capitalist class, distributing the April 17 article, “Obama, Clinton: No Friends of Workers, Blacks, the Oppressed—Break with the Democratic Party of Imperialist War and Racism! For a Class-Struggle Workers Party!” (reprinted in WV No. 913, 25 April). That article made clear that we “do not extend any political support on principle to any capitalist politician—Democrat, Republican, Green or ‘Independent’.”
In going to this rally, we sought to publicize Mumia’s cause and to intersect liberal youth attracted to Obama with Mumia’s case. Ever since we took up Mumia’s case in 1987, we have always sought to bring in broader forces that do not share our Marxist framework in the struggle on his behalf. In going to the “mainstream,” the reformists sought to build a “movement” that took an agnostic position on Mumia’s innocence. It is the PDC and the SL that have publicized Mumia’s case and brought it to the broadest possible forces, and done so—through our mobilizations, rallies and publications (most recently, for example, the PDC Fact Sheet pamphlet, Big Lies in the Service of Legal Lynching)—on the basis that he is an innocent man, the victim of a racist and political frame-up, who must be immediately freed.
One can contrast the protests initiated by the PDC with the other recent Mumia protests, which sought to exclude our communist views from the expressions of “diversity” permitted from their platforms. At the April 19 Philadelphia rally, the organizers arranged that different groups of demonstrators protest separately in their own little bantustans: the contingent built by the PDC on one corner, while on other corners there were supporters of organizations such as the ICFFMAJ, WWP, PSL and the RCP’s October 22nd Coalition. This division only emboldened fascist provocateurs and other supporters of the racist cops to carry out their previously announced threats of harassment and violence against Mumia’s defenders.
In contrast, the PDC-initiated protests united forces with diverse political viewpoints behind the call to free Mumia, while allowing each group to put forward its views. In Oakland, speakers included Richard Brown, Hank Jones, Francisco Torres and Ray Boudreaux of the “San Francisco 8,” former Black Panthers who are now being dragged through the courts on frame-up charges of killing a cop, which had been dismissed 30 years ago.
Speakers in the London protest included a number of black nationalists, such as Brother Omowale, who spoke on behalf of Galaxy Radio, which had publicized the PDC-initiated protest. Jessica Huntley, who helped found Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications, gave a very powerful and vivid picture of Mumia’s professionalism and political knowledge as a journalist when she had met him in 1981. She recalled Mumia calling her after he was arrested, telling her he was in prison for a crime he did not commit. (For more on the Oakland, Toronto and London united-front protests, see “International Protests Demand: Mumia Must Be Freed Now!” WV No. 913, 25 April.)
And there was political debate. Our class-struggle perspective, which stands in counterposition to the reformist left’s reliance on the U.S. “justice” system, was a point of controversy. During the Chicago united-front protest, as Bernard Branche, speaking for the Labor Black Struggle League, was underlining the need for integrated class struggle to fight for Mumia’s freedom, a supporter of the Black Panther Party, whose speaker Jokarhi Shakur-El had earlier addressed the crowd, tried to interrupt, declaring, “It doesn’t just take the working class.” Branche noted in response:
“They’ve had their speaker
. They have their own strategy. They put it forward. That strategy
despairs of united working-class struggle across racial lines against the racist bourgeoisie
. They despair of the possibility of winning working-class leadership, so therefore the only thing
left is support to the Democratic Party. This is a united-front protest. So freedom of criticism. That’s why it was appropriate for Jokarhi to get up here and give his perspective. And that’s why I’m giving mine.”
From Mexico City to Sydney: Mumia Must Be Freed Now!
Addressing the 100 protesters who mobilized in Mexico City for the April 24 united-front protest called by the GEM, Rachel Wolkenstein emphasized: “We are here to declare our opposition to the determination by the American state to execute Mumia or keep him in prison for the rest of his life. Mumia’s only crime was to be an unbending opponent of racism, police brutality, imperialist war and colonial depredation.” She added: “The American racist rulers see in Mumia the spectre of black revolt
. When Mumia was only 14 years old, he joined the Black Panther Party and soon became Minister of Communications of his local
. Mumia was put on a government list when he was 15 years old, for the crime, in the words of the FBI, of being an ‘effective spokesman’.” She continued:
“Mumia’s fight for freedom is a fight for all of us—in the United States, in Mexico, around the globe. In the United States his frame-up embodies every aspect of racist capitalist injustice. It lays bare the essence of the capitalist state as an instrument of repression against working people and the oppressed. The development of U.S. capitalism is rooted in black chattel slavery. The death penalty is the legacy of slavery—when blacks could be tortured and murdered as the property of their owners. The death sentence is the lynch rope made legal.”
Among the protesters in Mexico City were UNAM students and campus workers, leftists—including the Liga de los Trabajadores por el Socialismo-Contracorriente (LTS, allied with a Morenoite current of ostensible Trotskyism) and the IG, both of which addressed the rally—and spokesmen for defense groups including ¡Eureka! and the National Front Against Repression (FNCR). Inti Martínez from ¡Eureka! brought greetings from Senator Rosario Ibarra, National Coordinator of ¡Eureka! and an endorser of the united-front protests. Referring to the decades-long struggle by Ibarra and ¡Eureka! to recover their children, spouses and comrades disappeared by the Mexican state, he said: “They took them alive, we want them back alive! Free all political prisoners, free Mumia!”
The speaker from the Juventud Espartaquista, youth group of the GEM, recalled that the previous day was the ninth anniversary of the beginning of the militant UNAM student strike in defense of public education, “a very combative struggle that had the potential to light the fuse of workers revolution in Mexico. To realize this potential, a revolutionary leadership was necessary.” The strike was broken by bloody state repression by all three of Mexico’s bourgeois parties, the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), PAN (National Action Party) and PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution), and the JE speaker linked this to the attacks by right-wing thugs against leftist students on campuses today. He also took up the current campaign to smear prominent Mexican leftist spokesmen as well as UNAM students and working-class militants as “terrorists” in the wake of the murderous Colombian government attack on a camp of the guerrillaist FARC in Ecuador in early March, which killed 22 people, including several UNAM students.
The theme of labor solidarity across the border was repeatedly raised. The speaker for the Workers Assembly at the Political and Social Sciences School, organized in the STUNAM union, declared, “Death to tyranny! Death to the death penalty!” He demanded freedom for Mumia and for “all the Mexicans and Latinos unjustly prosecuted” by the U.S. government. The LTS speaker saluted the PDC for the international campaign and pointed to the power of the U.S. working class and the need for American workers to unite with workers around the world. Disavowing confidence in the U.S. Democratic or Republican parties, he called on the trade unions to lead the struggle for Mumia’s freedom. The speaker for the GEM responded that through its calls for “dissolution of the repressive forces of the state,” the LTS partakes of the same illusions in the capitalist state that demobilized the fight for Mumia’s freedom (see page 9).
Celia Hart sent a solidarity message linking Mumia’s case to that of the Cuban Five, framed up in Miami on bogus espionage charges because of their solidarity with Cuba. She wrote: “With great honor and commitment I endorse the campaign for the immediate freedom of our brother Mumia.... Our five Cuban compañeros, revolutionary fighters, suffer unacceptable sentences just as Mumia does. They are six fighters for the happiness of their peoples (two of the Cuban comrades are also Americans). These two campaigns should be one
. We need those six internationalist fighters out from behind bars
At every united-front protest, the injustice suffered by Mumia was linked with capitalist oppression and racist cop terror at home. At the April 23 united-front protest in Sydney, Australia, where some 55 demonstrators called for Mumia’s freedom, the speaker for the Spartacist League, Margaret Rodda, said: “We oppose the death penalty on principle and demand its abolition. We do not accord the state the right to decide who lives and dies. While the death penalty was officially abolished in Australia...it is applied in practice against the deeply oppressed Aboriginal population in the prisons and police cells. This gives Mumia’s case a deep resonance in this country.” Denouncing the military and police takeover of Aboriginal lands in Australia’s Northern Territory, she demanded, “The Aboriginal people must not be left to fight alone—mobilize the organized workers movement in a class-struggle fight for Aboriginal rights!”
Chicago: “Mumia Belongs Out Here with the People”
The Chicago demonstration drew more than 200 protesters and included 13 speakers representing a broad range of political and union organizations. Chicago endorsers of the united-front protests included Amalgamated Transit Union Locals 241 and 308, United Auto Workers Local 3212 and AFSCME Local 3506. Students mobilized for the protest from campuses across Chicago, including from the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Chicago, DePaul University, Chicago State University and Northeastern University. Campus endorsers included the Black Student Union at DePaul and the MEChA and Students for a Democratic Society groups at the University of Chicago.
Virtually every speaker expressed outrage at the acquittal, the day before the rally, of the NYPD cops who killed Sean Bell in a hail of 50 bullets. LBSL speaker Bernard Branche stated that “two of the cops who killed Sean Bell were black, and in gunning down a black youth they were just doing their jobs in the eyes of the racist rulers. We seek to mobilize labor in protest against these outrages while explaining to the masses that things like racist cop terror can only be ended when the class that the cops protect is removed from power by the working class.”
Calling for mass protests centered on the power of labor to fight for Mumia’s freedom, Branche pointed out that racial oppression has been a fundamental aspect of the workings of American capitalism “since slavery, through the defeat of Radical Reconstruction, all the way up to the present with examples like Katrina or the Jena Six.” He continued:
“The division of the working class along racial and ethnic lines has been used to stifle the working class in its struggle against the corrupt and racist bosses. Our perspective is that of revolutionary integrationism. We seek to fight every manifestation of the racial oppression of black people. We understand that only through the construction of an egalitarian socialist society can black freedom be won. This strategy stands counterposed to both the liberal-integrationist pipe dream of a slow and gradual crawl to equality and to black nationalism, which accepts the ghettoization and separation that is a key aspect of black racial oppression.”
Branche added: “We seek to win the working class, including white workers as well as the growing number of Latino and other immigrants to the fight for black liberation. We also see the necessity for black and working-class militants to fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants. This is to prepare the working masses to fight their common capitalist enemy. An injury to one is an injury to all!” Spartacist League speaker Paula Daniels pointed to the pro-capitalist labor bureaucracy as the obstacle in the workers movement to mobilizing labor’s power for Mumia’s freedom, stating, “Labor needs a leadership based on the independence of the working class from the bosses’ state and political parties” (see page 6).
Speaking for the Gay Liberation Network, Bob Schwartz said: “Yesterday I saw a prominent politician on television stating that we must respect the court decision that exonerated the killers of Sean Bell. Now who was that politician? That’s right, it was Barack Obama. It wasn’t George Bush, or John McCain, although it could have been, but it was Barack Obama. I’m sure that no one here, or I hope no one here, has illusions in Obama or in any other capitalist politician to bring about liberation.”
Speaking at the rally, Rachel Wolkenstein noted:
“While directed at Mumia, the Court of Appeals ruling is an attack on the rights of all of us. The court upheld the exclusion of black jurors, approved the outrageous racist conduct of Judge Sabo and gave license to the prosecutor’s unconstitutional argument to the jury that they could convict Mumia because he’d have ‘appeal after appeal.’ The Third Circuit made ‘Mumia rules’ in order to undermine those rights which are supposed to be in the Bill of Rights for everyone
“The ruling in Mumia’s case confirms again that no justice can be expected from the capitalist courts. Every possible legal avenue must be pursued vigorously to challenge this recent court decision. But we cannot afford to have any illusions in fair hearings and impartial judges.”
Glenna Swinford spoke for the Freightliner 5, UAW Local 3520 members in North Carolina who were fired for leading a strike. She detailed how the UAW International bureaucrats declared the strike “illegal,” setting the workers up for victimization. “Mumia is fighting for his life, his freedom, and wrongful incarceration,” she said. “This is a battle he has fought for over 25 years. The justice system has failed him, but he still keeps fighting for his freedom, and the Freightliner 5 will continue to fight for ours.”
“We know that Mumia is innocent. We know he belongs out here with the people. He’s part of the people,” said Bill Hampton, brother of Fred Hampton, the Chicago Black Panther Party leader who along with Mark Clark was assassinated by the Chicago cops in 1969. Exonerated former death row prisoner Delbert Tibbs also endorsed and attended the protest. “If anybody believes that there is going to be justice in this system, let me tell you, I’m sorry, but you’re wrong” said immigrant rights activist Jorge Mujica, Co-Coordinator of the March 10th Committee. Mujica referred to the 1927 execution of framed-up immigrant anarchist workers Sacco and Vanzetti and the 1953 execution of Communists Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. He linked the struggle to free Mumia with the struggle for immigrant rights, pointing to the militancy that immigrant workers have brought into the U.S. labor movement.
Earl Silbar, a retired member of AFSCME Local 3506, paid tribute to the power of Mumia’s journalism. He also remarked, “The fact is I never would have been involved if it weren’t for my subscribing to the Spartacist paper
. Despite any and all disagreements, the Spartacist League has been consistent over many, many years
in raising Mumia’s case and keeping people informed and bringing people out and so I want to pay tribute to them for that and for this rally.”
The rally began with demonstrators listening to a recording of the moving speech made by Mumia’s daughter, Goldii, at the March 28 PDC demonstration in New York, where she underlined that the rulers want to kill Mumia “because they are afraid of him, because of his eloquence, his intelligence” (Goldii’s speech is available at: www.partisandefense.org/pubs/articles/videos0408.html). Greetings to the rallies were read from Mumia’s son, Jamal Hart, who has been in prison since 1997 for bogus weapons charges in retaliation for defending his father.
Los Angeles: “The Fight to Free Mumia Is a Fight for Black Liberation”
In Los Angeles, up to 150 people participated in the united-front rally at the Westwood Federal Building, including a contingent that marched from UCLA. The demonstration reflected the multiracial working class of the city. Rosie Martinez, flanked at the podium by several fellow unionists, spoke as the chairperson of the Latino Caucus of SEIU 721, which represents county and city workers in Southern California. “The Latino Caucus,” she said, “stands in solidarity with the demand to free Mumia Abu-Jamal.” She noted, “We in the labor movement know the racist capitalists try to divide and oppress workers here in the United States and worldwide,” adding: “We will continue the struggle, brothers and sisters, until we free Mumia and all political prisoners and end the racist death penalty.”
James Lafferty, Executive Director of the L.A. branch of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), proudly noted that “Mumia Abu-Jamal has been a Vice President for Jailhouse Lawyers” in the NLG for more than 25 years. Lafferty added: “I bring you greetings as well from KPFK,” where “we have been proud to broadcast Mumia’s commentaries.” KPFK, he added, was the first radio station to put Arnold Beverly’s confession on the air.
Reverend Richard Byrd told the Los Angeles protest that “35 percent of young black men between the ages of 19 and 29 are incarcerated or in some way involved in the criminal injustice system. That’s a lynching.” He also cited the cop shooting of Sean Bell. “The labor movement must get involved,” emphasized Jesse Smith, President of the African American Caucus of SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West. “In the 13th amendment to the United States Constitution they tell you that slavery and involuntary servitude are abolished,” Smith said, but that doesn’t apply to “the nearly one million black men and women” behind bars today. Mumia “is a victim of slavery in this criminal justice system,” he added.
Other speakers included Don White, coordinator of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador-L.A. (CISPES) and Sherman Austin, a young black anarchist who was railroaded to prison for a year for the “crime” of hosting an anarchist Web site. Austin performed his hip-hop protest songs “Raise the Fist” and “Freedom.” Additionally, Walter Lippmann, editor of the online CubaNews, spoke. He noted that the Spanish translation of Mumia’s book We Want Freedom is widely available in Cuba, where Mumia’s case is closely followed and where he is viewed as a leader in the struggle for justice in the United States.
Spartacist League spokesman Don Cane said: “Our task is to assist the international working class in making the cause of this class-war prisoner their own, so that the demand ‘Free Mumia’ rings out from worker-led protest around the world!... Labor must champion freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal! This would give labor a sense of its own power. The fight to free Mumia is a fight for black liberation, the emancipation of labor, and it is part of the struggle for socialist revolution.”
From the Reformists to the Dubious
A number of reformist groups have sought to paint the March 27 federal court decision as a “victory.” L’Humanité (28 March), daily paper of the reformist French Communist Party, headlined, “Mumia Abu-Jamal Gets Off Death Row.” But as Mumia stated in an April 7 radio interview: “If you look at what the court said and what they did: what they did is, they made up new rules. You see, that is not a victory. That is, again, the Mumia rule
. So it’s the ‘Mu rule’ once again. When a court has to make up new rules and make up new laws to uphold something that was unjust before, that’s not a victory. It’s not a victory. But we struggle on.”
In France, the CDDS, the PDC’s fraternal defense organization, has fought to expose the fallacy of the PCF’s “victory” claim. Stung by this exposure, the Collectif Unitaire National “Ensemble, sauvons Mumia” (United National Collective, “Together, Let’s Save Mumia”), which is supported by the PCF, issued a statement that, among other things, condemned as “slander” the fact that the CDDS noted of the Collectif that “their confidence in the capitalist state flows from their conviction that the courts and the police are some kind of neutral public service like the post office.”
The CDDS replied in an April 17 open letter: “While the PCF has been administering the capitalist state for decades at the municipal level, as well as at the national level in popular-front governments like under Mitterrand and Jospin, the LCR [Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire] has been aspiring to do so, too
. LO [Lutte Ouvrière] just ran in the municipal elections on a number of slates with the PCF
. A central plank of many a municipal program for these slates was to re-establish the ‘neighborhood police.’
Fueling illusions in the racist police and court system of capitalist-imperialist France goes hand in hand with preaching the need for a ‘new, fair trial for Mumia,’ as these groups have done.”
While the reformist left has sought to avoid our united-front protests like the plague, the dubious International Bolshevik Tendency (BT) has sought to be the microbe that poisons the labor-centered mass protest necessary to free Mumia. Having become involved in the united-front protests in Toronto and London, the BT then promoted protests in cities where we do not have active branches: Dublin, Ireland; Cologne, Germany; and Vienna, Austria. These three Potemkin-village “protests” drew a combined total of no more than 35 people. The Dublin “rally” featured a speaker from the anarchist Workers Solidarity Movement who questioned Mumia’s innocence without a peep in response from the BT. Meanwhile, BT supporters showed up at the April 19 Oakland united-front protest and, while claiming to support the slogans of the protest, refused to endorse it. What gives?
The BT was formed over 25 years ago by embittered ex-members of our tendency and has been marked by utter disdain for special oppression, not least a sneering contempt for the fight for black freedom. When we launched a series of labor/black mobilizations to stop the Klan and Nazis in major urban centers in the early to mid 1980s, the BT denounced us for abandoning trade-union work in favor of “community organizing.” When in 1985 Philly cops under black Democratic mayor Wilson Goode, working in collusion with Ronald Reagan’s FBI, bombed the Osage Avenue home of MOVE, of which Mumia is a supporter, killing eleven people, the BT could not choke out a word of protest. Instead, when we organized a New York memorial meeting in solidarity with the victims of this racist atrocity, the BT attacked us for not polemicizing against MOVE’s philosophy!
The BT, in fact, did not have an article on Mumia until 1996. But they made a press splash around Mumia’s case the prior year in the midst of the protests against the execution warrant—in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. A 16 June 1995 article by this house organ of U.S. finance capital retailed the BT’s slanders of the Spartacist League as a deranged “cult” in order to smear the efforts of the PDC and others on Mumia’s behalf. As we wrote in “Dubious BT’s ‘United Front’ Fraud—The Fight for Class-Struggle Defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal” (WV No. 903, 23 November 2007): “The Wall Street Journal’s intent was transparent enough. How and why the minuscule BT was readily wielded as a tool for the Wall Street Journal is not.”
We can only guess why an organization that cares nothing about black oppression would get involved in Mumia’s case. What we do know is that the BT—an organization led by the twisted sociopath Bill Logan, who was expelled from our tendency in 1979 for crimes “against communist morality and its substrate elementary human decency”—has always pursued an unnatural and hostile obsession with our organization. Insofar as they have gotten involved in Mumia’s case, it has been to conciliate the reformists’ calls for a “new trial” while attacking the PDC and SL as “sectarian” as we have fought to reverse the demobilization of Mumia’s supporters.
Mobilize Now to Free Mumia!
The PDC was founded in 1974 in emulation of the International Labor Defense (ILD) of the early American Communist movement. The ILD was headed by James P. Cannon, who would go on to become the founding leader of American Trotskyism. It was the American branch of the International Red Aid (MOPR) established by the Third (Communist) International following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. From its inception, the PDC has championed cases and causes in the interest of the working class in the spirit of non-sectarian solidarity. In addition to defending class-war prisoners, such as union militants victimized for defending picket lines, the PDC defends anti-racist militants, opponents of imperialist war and colonial oppression, activists for women’s and gay rights and all others targeted by the capitalist rulers for their defense of the oppressed. Over 20 years ago the PDC initiated a monthly stipend program for class-war prisoners, which today includes Mumia, Leonard Peltier and the MOVE prisoners.
For the early ILD, one of the defining issues was the case of Sacco and Vanzetti (see “Lessons of the Fight to Free Sacco and Vanzetti,” WV Nos. 897 and 898, 31 August and 14 September 2007). At the Los Angeles emergency protest on March 28, PDC speaker Michael Graham noted striking parallels between the ILD’s fight to save Sacco and Vanzetti and Mumia’s case today:
“The two anarchists were framed up by the capitalist state in much the same way that Mumia is being framed up today: phony ballistics, witness intimidation, and the use of the defendants’ political background to inflame the jury. As in Mumia’s case, a criminal confessed that he, not Sacco and Vanzetti, was involved in the crime for which the two were convicted. And as in Mumia’s case, liberals, the reformist Socialist Party and the pro-capitalist leaders of the American Federation of Labor demobilized the fight for Sacco and Vanzetti’s freedom, diverting the movement into appeals for a ‘fair day in court’ for the sake of America’s ‘democratic’ image.”
The PDC-initiated united-front protests give a taste of what is necessary to win Mumia’s freedom. Time is running short, and the racist rulers are determined to silence Mumia. Labor’s power must be mobilized to fight racist oppression and free all class-war prisoners! Free Mumia now! Abolish the racist death penalty!