Workers Vanguard No. 911

28 March 2008


PDC Speaker at SL Black History Month Forum:

Mumia’s Freedom Would Be a Victory for the International Working Class

We print below, edited for publication, a presentation by Partisan Defense Committee speaker Erica Williamson at a February 23 New York City Spartacist League Black History Month forum.

Mumia Abu-Jamal is a former Black Panther, a MOVE supporter, an award-winning journalist who still fights with his pen from death row against racism and imperialist war. Falsely convicted of the 1981 murder of Police Officer Daniel Faulkner, Mumia was sentenced to death in 1982 because the ruling class sees in him the spectre of black revolt. In seeking to kill Mumia, the ruling class wants to fulfill the threat of FBI head J. Edgar Hoover that “The Negro youth and moderate[s] must be made to understand that if they succumb to revolutionary teachings, they will be dead revolutionaries.” Mumia’s frame-up shows the continuing legacy of the FBI’s COINTELPRO campaign of government violence, harassment and disruption against leftists and black radicals in the 1960s in which 38 Black Panthers were killed and hundreds more imprisoned.

Recall that only two and a half years ago the FBI carried out the coldblooded assassination of Puerto Rican nationalist Filiberto Ojeda Ríos—they did to him what they want to see done to former Panther and Black Liberation Army member Assata Shakur in Cuba and what they would like to see done to Mumia. In defending radical black activists like Mumia and Shakur, in fighting against government repression, in fighting in defense of black and poor people, such as those victimized by the capitalist rulers in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, in mobilizing in defense of our striking trade-union sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico—in all this, we are guided by our understanding that the capitalist state and its courts, and the capitalist system as a whole, have got to go.

Mumia’s case is the defining political death penalty case of our generation. It illustrates the racist oppression endemic in this country in its cruelest, most vicious form. It lays bare the essence of the capitalist state as an instrument of repression against working people and the oppressed. We are opposed to the death penalty as a matter of principle—it is not for the state to determine who is to live or die.

Mumia’s case represents what the death penalty is all about—a legacy of chattel slavery, the lynch rope made legal. Mumia’s case also has everything to do with the fact that racial oppression is very much a thriving force in this society. This is contrary to the lie promoted by Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama that the civil rights movement brought America “90 percent of the way” toward racial equality. Just tell that to Mumia. Or to the eight surviving members of the MOVE 9 who are still locked away in prison, where in May 1985 they witnessed on television the massacre of their families and members of their organization, including five children, when black Democratic mayor Wilson Goode ordered the Philly cops, backed by the federal government, to drop a bomb on their home.

The capitalist Democratic Party is no answer to ending black oppression. As an oppressed race-color caste, black people are integrated into the capitalist economy but forcibly segregated at the bottom of society. Against both the liberals and the black nationalists, we stand for the program of revolutionary integrationism: black liberation requires a workers revolution that overthrows the capitalist system. Only then will it be possible to eliminate the material roots of black oppression through the full integration of black people into an egalitarian socialist society based on a collectivized economy with quality jobs, housing, health care and education for all.

We fight for integrated class struggle by the multiracial American proletariat. The capitalist rulers use black oppression as a key wedge to keep the working class divided and from uniting in struggle against them. The power to defend all intended victims of this racist capitalist state is going to come out of the social power of the working class, leading behind it all the oppressed. That means labor strikes and mass protests and demonstrations organized around the power of the labor movement in this country and internationally. What is necessary is to build a workers party that fights to mobilize the working class in the struggle for a workers government.

The fight for black liberation in the U.S. can be a powerful motor force for sparking class struggle against the capitalist rulers. There may not be much class struggle against the capitalist rulers today, in part because the pro-capitalist labor tops have a program of class peace with the bosses. But the perspective of fighting to mobilize workers with their social power in the streets and at the point of production to stop the legal lynching of an innocent man is a crucial step for the labor movement that must happen. Mumia’s freedom would be a victory not only for the fight for black liberation, but for the working class internationally.

We fight for united class-struggle defense and united-front actions to free Mumia. We look to the labor movement, which has the power to bring the capitalist system’s wheels to a halt. One example of the social power of labor was the 2005 New York City TWU Local 100 transit strike, which crippled the city. A small example of what we mean by class-struggle defense and united-front action was in Oakland in February 2002, when the PDC and Labor Black League for Social Defense initiated a united-front demonstration, centered on the powerful ILWU longshore union, in defense of immigrants and against the USA Patriot Act and the Maritime Security Act. We vigorously fight against anti-immigrant and anti-Latino chauvinism while challenging the deeply entrenched black oppression that forms the cornerstone of American capitalism. Integrated class-struggle defense is crucial to fighting the backward racism, sexism and anti-immigrant chauvinism inside and outside the unions; it is also critical to smashing the very system that breeds this backward consciousness and whose means of existence is working-class exploitation.

The Partisan Defense Committee is a non-sectarian class-struggle defense organization, which champions cases and causes in the interest of the whole of the working people. Our views are in political accordance with the Spartacist League. We took up Mumia’s case over 20 years ago and have fought for a class-struggle defense program modeled after the early International Labor Defense under the leadership of James P. Cannon and their campaign to free Italian immigrant anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, who were framed up by the capitalist state and executed in 1927 [see “Lessons of the Fight to Free Sacco and Vanzetti,” WV Nos. 897 and 898, 31 August and 14 September 2007]. 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. The social power of labor must be mobilized behind Mumia’s cause based on the understanding that he is innocent and the victim of a racist, political frame-up.

But instead, the fight for Mumia has been and continues to be demobilized by a policy pursued by liberals and the reformist left of impotent appeals to the “justice” and “fairness” of the capitalist courts, represented by the call for a new trial and a fairer process. In opposition to mobilizing the multiracial proletariat for Mumia’s freedom, reformists like the Workers World Party and the International Socialist Organization appeal to the bourgeois courts to do right by Mumia. While the PDC stands for pursuing all legal avenues in Mumia’s case, we know that the pressure of international class struggle is necessary to compel the courts to free him.

The book Murdered by Mumia by Maureen Faulkner and right-wing radio journalist Michael Smerconish is a racist smear job on Mumia and on his supporters. It is a rallying cry for his execution, and for the racist death penalty more broadly. The publication of this book shows that 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” who seek his blood. The PDC published a fact sheet, Big Lies in the Service of Legal Lynching, which everyone here should get, read and distribute broad and wide [see].

On February 19, citing procedural rules that bar as untimely the use of evidence discovered after trial and appeal, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court turned down Mumia’s request for a hearing to present evidence that key witnesses in his 1982 frame-up trial perjured themselves under police coercion. The court once again slammed shut its doors to death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, proving that there is no justice in the capitalist courts for Mumia. Still pending in the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals is Mumia’s appeal from a denial of his application for habeas corpus seeking to overturn his conviction. Oral argument in that appeal was held last May, and a decision, either upholding the death sentence, condemning Mumia to a life behind bars or ordering a new trial or additional legal proceedings, could come any day.

The U.S. federal appeals court is not required to consider all the issues that Mumia has raised—even though virtually every democratic right, from freedom of speech and association to a trial based on due process, was violated in Mumia’s case. The court is not considering any evidence of Mumia’s innocence or the state frame-up against him. The state and federal courts have refused to even consider the confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, shot and killed Officer Faulkner. Get the PDC’s 2006 pamphlet The Fight to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal—Mumia Is Innocent! [see].

We don’t know when or how the Third Circuit Court will rule. However, we do know that the job of the courts is to carry out capitalist injustice and that Mumia’s case is a textbook example of police frame-up, an object lesson in the class nature of the capitalist state. The capitalist state, with its cops and courts, is a machine for the organized violence by the capitalists to defend the profit system against working people, minorities and all the oppressed. The state is determined as ever to see Mumia executed or entombed for life. Comrades and friends, we have a real fight ahead of us.

In preparation for a decision—and because no other organization at the time had called for any protest—the PDC and Labor Black Leagues called for emergency demonstrations to take place the day after a decision if the Third Circuit Court of Appeals rules to uphold the death sentence or denies Mumia’s appeals for a new trial or a new hearing [for more information, see:]. After we initiated our emergency demos, other organizations, including the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition (NYC), have called for similar emergency demonstrations. The PDC will also be building a class-struggle defense contingent for the national Mumia rally in Philly called by the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal on the third Saturday after a decision. We call on you to take the bus down with us and march under our banner: Mumia Abu-Jamal Is Innocent—Free Him Now! There Is No Justice in the Capitalist Courts! Abolish the Racist Death Penalty! Mobilize Labor’s Power—For Mass Protest!