Workers Hammer No. 197

Winter 2006-2007


The BT and the fight to free Mumia



7 December 2006

Dear comrades,

At Mumia events in London the dubious International Bolshevik Tendency (BT) has been insinuating that the SL and the Partisan Defence Committee are unwilling to join in united-front protests for Mumia’s freedom. This lying allegation also appears in a September internet posting on their website, “On Recent Spartacist League Polemics”, which complains of the SL’s “apparent desire to avoid working with us in defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal”. A letter in Workers Vanguard no 876 (15 September 2006) exposed this claim as a lie. For starters, the BT’s posting appeared on 1 September, one week after the PDC had informed the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal (LAC), in which the BT is a key player, of its endorsement of their 15 September rally in Oakland, California. The SL and PDC built for this rally (more than can be said for the LAC) which was based on the slogans: “Mumia Abu-Jamal Is Innocent! For Labor Action to Free Mumia! End the Racist Death Penalty!”

But the BT’s allegation that the SL and PDC are sectarian is not about the truth, or about joining genuine united-front protests. It’s a cover for the BT’s role in building committees that are vehicles for unity with the liberals and reformists who call for a new trial. Thus they build illusions in the “justice” of the capitalist courts which have upheld the racist frame-up of Mumia for a quarter of a century. The BT’s lie about SL sectarianism goes all the way back to 1995, when they belatedly got involved in campaigning for Mumia. Their account of what happened in Britain in 1995, as retold in their September internet posting, is a masterpiece of BT distortion and falsification. It says:

“At a 21 June public meeting in Toronto (which had been billed as a PDC organizing meeting for Mumia) ICL members brusquely dismissed our proposal to cooperate in seeking to initiate another round of united action.

“This, unfortunately, is not the first time the ICL has taken such a sectarian approach. In August 1995, when a wave of demonstrations erupted around the world to protest Mumia’s scheduled execution, our comrades in London approached the Spartacist League/Britain (SL/B) with a suggestion for initiating an emergency demonstration:

‘Time is short, but it is still not too late to initiate a sizeable national demonstration before 17th August. Other groups are planning various events, but these will be fragmentary and isolated in the absence of a co-ordinated campaign. There has been considerable coverage of Mumia’s case in the bourgeois press and most of the left groups would probably come on board for united action. The SL/B, of all the groups on the British far left, is probably best positioned to initiate such a united front because of the years of work by your American comrades in Mumia’s defence. We pledge our fullest support in building any such action….’

— letter to the SL/B, 6 August 1995

“The ICL leadership responded:

‘We don’t know what world the BT lives in, but we have a lot more grasp of social reality and our own social weight than to believe that a “Free Mumia Committee” of ourselves, the BT and a bunch of other small leftist organizations would be able to rally the social forces necessary to win Mumia’s freedom.’

Workers Vanguard (WV) no 627, 25 August 1995”

This is a classic BT sleight of hand. The above paragraph quoted from WV was written in reply to the BT arguing that the Spartacist League has undermined Mumia’s defence by not setting up a “united-front committee”, not as they assert, in reply to their call to build a demonstration.

The BT’s ability to disappear facts is notable in the sentence: “In August 1995, when a wave of demonstrations erupted around the world to protest Mumia’s scheduled execution, our comrades in London approached the Spartacist League/Britain (SL/B) with a suggestion for initiating an emergency demonstration.” This letter was dated 7 August 1995 (and not 6 August as cited by the BT above). What the BT doesn’t say is that just over two weeks earlier, on 22 July 1995, the PDC had initiated and organised a united-front demonstration in London. It’s not as if the BT doesn’t know about it, leading BTer Alan Gibson spoke from the platform! The PDC had also organised an emergency protest outside the US embassy on 8 June of that year when a death warrant was signed which was attended by about 150 people, at which the BT also spoke.

Having deliberately conflated their call for a committee and their call for a demonstration, the BT’s posting continues:

“We [the BT] replied:

‘it is precisely the fact that “a bunch of other small leftist [and other] organizations” all began to mobilize around the same issue at the same time, that made the demonstrations for Jamal successful. In order to build the mass support necessary for winning his freedom, it makes sense to organize this cooperation.... True, the combined forces of the left are less than massive. But is the SL suggesting that it alone is capable of mobilizing greater numbers than small groups working in concert?’

— ‘For United Front Defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal!’, 1917 no 17, 1996 ”

Possibly the reason they didn’t mention the PDC July demonstration is to be found in what’s left out of their quote from WV no 627, 25 August 1995. After the piece they quote, the WV article continues:

“In any case, to argue as the IBT does in its letter to the SL/B, that the absence of such a committee kept other left organizations from really mobilizing for a PDC-initiated demonstration in defense of Jamal that was held in London on July 22 is laughable. The very same day, at the very same time, these very same ‘leftists’ had mobilized their forces for a proimperialist demonstration calling to ‘Stop the Rape of Bosnia.’ This was a quite conscious decision for all of these groups whose demonstration was called some time after the Jamal protest had been widely advertised. Remarkably, but not at all surprisingly, the BT has not a word to say against those whose own perceived sectarian advantage and capitulationist political priorities led them to counterpose their ‘Workers Aid for Bosnia’ march to a demonstration in defense of Jamal.”

The BT has been a key player in the London-based Mumia Must Live! coalition which, like the LAC in the US, has a track record of organising activities on the basis of a call for a new trial. In March 1999, leading BTer Alan Gibson sent an email on behalf of Mumia Must Live! asking organisations (including the SL) to endorse an upcoming 25 April rally, and the Mumia Must Live! coalition. On the political character of the rally Gibson said: “We are hoping that this event on April 25th, as part of the international weekend of action in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal, will have something of the flavour of the recent rally in New York attended by 1700 people — I attach a report of this meeting at the end of this email.” The report he circulated left no doubt that the “flavour” of the New York rally was unequivocally for a new trial.

The report was of a 26 February 1999 “Millions for Mumia” rally. One of its headlines is: “Undeterred by PBA Threats, Supporters of Death-Row Activists say, ‘Stop the Execution, New Trial for Mumia! All Out for April 24!” The report continues: “Speakers said Abu-Jamal must receive a new trial and no death warrant must be signed by Gov. Tom Ridge.” It quotes Monica Moorehead, a national coordinator of “Millions for Mumia” saying: “Tonight’s meeting showed there is broad support to demand a new trial for Mumia.”

The BT is also capable of talking out of the other side of its mouth on occasion and arguing against the call for a new trial. A BT internet posting of 8 March 2000 about a split in the Bristol Mumia campaign by “Alan, for the IBT” concludes:

“Finally, I think it is important that MML does not add a call for a retrial to its basis of unity. Judge Yohn can rule that Mumia should go free — why should we demand anything less? The demand for a retrial can create illusions in the racist justice system in America. And a retrial can result in a new frame-up, as it did for Hurricane Carter. Yet while I oppose adding such a demand to the basis for unity of MML, I believe that those (like the SWP) who want to call for a new trial should be free to do so in their own name.”

This is the best they can do when they decide to muster an argument for freedom for Mumia. Obviously it is not intended to destroy the liberal illusions in the capitalist justice system that the call for a new trial stems from and fosters. It is crafted in such a way as to cause no disruption to unity with the new trial crowd, which is what really matters to the BT.

The foregoing illustrates the wretched political record of a group that mouths “Trotskyist” principles while mingling happily with the most abject reformists. But there are more shady sides to them. At the height of the emergency protests against the death warrant in June 1995, the Wall Street Journal ran an article smearing the organisations defending Mumia, centrally going after the PDC and SL. The cited source for their slanders of the SL as a deranged “cult” was none other than the BT, a group which at the time had written a total of zero articles defending Mumia. As the PDC leaflet for the Oakland rally in September put it, “The intent of the Wall Street Journal in smearing Mumia’s supporters was transparent enough. How and why the minuscule BT was so readily wielded as a tool for the WSJ is not.”


Kate Klein