Workers Hammer No. 203
PDC international protest campaign
Mumia Abu-Jamal must be freed now!
On 27 March, the US 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 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 defence organisation associated with the Spartacist League/US — together with the fraternal defence organisations associated with other sections of the International Communist League (ICL), called for emergency protests immediately after the ruling came down. These protests, which took place on 28 and 29 March, were followed over the next four weeks by united-front demonstrations called by the PDC and the other ICL-allied defence organisations, and heavily built by the Spartacist League (SL) and other ICL sections. On 19 April, over 100 protested at the US Embassy in London and a similar number demonstrated in Toronto, while 200 mobilised for the united-front protest in Oakland, California. United-front protests were also held in Sydney, Australia, on 23 April, on the campus of the National Autonomous University (UNAM) in Mexico City on 24 April, and in Chicago and Los Angeles on 26 April. And on 17 May 50 people attended a rally in Melbourne, Australia.
In addition to the united-front protests, the PDC and the New York Labor Black League for Social Defense mobilised a Class-Struggle Contingent of some 150 people for the 19 April 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 Defence (CDDS), the PDC’s fraternal defence organisation 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 12 April, the Committee for Social Defence (KfsV) in Germany had mobilised 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!” The PDC initiated the united-front protests to provide an internationalist platform for trade unionists and fighters for the oppressed throughout the world to express their solidarity with Mumia whose case has come to represent struggle against racist injustice worldwide.
Trade unions in many countries representing hundreds of thousands of workers around the world were among more than 500 individuals and groups who endorsed the protests. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) Western Cape 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.” The International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 in San Francisco endorsed the Oakland rally. Union endorsers of the international campaign included the SUD Rail Workers Union of Paris Left Bank, the OPZZ Konfederacja Pracy (All-Poland Workers Trade Union Confederation of Labour) 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 STUC 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.” (For a full list of endorsers go to: www.partisandefense.org). Sections of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union in London Underground and the Communication Workers Union (CWU) Eastern Region also endorsed.
The PDC also sought support for Mumia’s cause among students, antiwar and gay rights activists, minorities, immigrant communities, left organisations and other public figures. Endorsements for the united fronts were received from former Black Panther Party leaders Elaine Brown and David Hilliard, Day-Mer Turkish and Kurdish Community Centre in London, Jim Deery of the Greater New Lodge Community Forum in Belfast, the head of the VVN-BdA (Association of the Victims of the Nazi Regime — Coalition of Anti-Fascists) in Berlin, Cynthia McKinney (US Green Party candidate for president), and writers including the poet Benjamin Zephaniah, 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 US government. The protests were also built and attended by black nationalist and Pan-Africanist 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. And in every locale, from London to Sydney to Mexico City, protesters took to the platform to denounce not only the racist US imperialists but the race, national and class oppression meted out by their “own” bourgeoisies. Where participants took up the PDC’s invitation to express their own views, a range of political viewpoints was aired and debated, which only made more powerful the shared commitment to the urgent fight for Mumia’s freedom.
Many speakers at the Los Angeles and Chicago protests on 26 April expressed outrage at the acquittal on 25 April of the New York cops who killed Sean Bell in a hail of 50 bullets. Labor Black Struggle League 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 mobilise labour 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.” The PDC and others at the protests called for freedom for the eight MOVE prisoners in the US, who have endured 30 years in the hell of Pennsylvania’s prisons for the “crime” of surviving the horrific cop siege of their Philadelphia home in 1978. Outrageously, five of the MOVE prisoners have recently been denied parole; two others have parole decisions pending and one will become eligible for parole later this year. The MOVE prisoners are innocent and should not have spent a day in jail! We demand the immediate, unconditional release of the MOVE prisoners!
London: “Workers of the world unite for freedom for Mumia!”
Our strategy in the fight to free Mumia is that of class-struggle defence based on the understanding that capitalist society is fundamentally divided between two hostile 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. While every legal avenue must be pursued, it is the power of mass international protest centered on the trade unions that can make the courts yield.
The London protest on 19 April brought out significant support from the multiethnic trade unions — including from the RMT Finsbury Park branch and the CWU Eastern Region whose speakers had worked to build support for Mumia’s freedom in their unions. Rally chair Eibhlin McDonald also welcomed speakers from several organisations representing London’s black minority community, noting that they “have embraced the campaign for Mumia’s freedom as part of their ongoing fight against the brutal repression that is a daily fact of life for London’s black minority population”. This mobilisation showed in embryo the forces which must be mobilised in their thousands — trade unions and minorities — for Mumia’s freedom. 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 — ie, open debate about what strategy is needed to rebuild the movement for Mumia and fight for his freedom. In addition to the PDC and the Spartacist League, other speakers included Dr Paul Mason of the Cardiff Nexus Innocence Project, Corinna Lotz of A World to Win, Nicki Jameson of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, Sista Mawasi of the Afrikan Liberation Day Organising Committee, Brother Ras Lloyd for the Pan-Afrikan Society Community Forum and Brother Otongogara for the George Jackson Socialist League. Jessica Huntley, who helped found Bogle-L’Ouverture Press, recalled meeting and being interviewed by Mumia in 1981 in New York. Describing his professionalism and political acumen as a journalist, she said, “I found him to be very knowledgeable about the struggles in Britain against racism and fascism and discrimination.” She recalled getting Mumia’s phone call the following year, telling her he had been arrested and imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. Urging wider mobilisation for Mumia she continued, “Mumia’s courage and determination is a beacon to all of us here.”
PDC speaker Kate Klein stressed the need to fight against the racist capitalist order in Britain as well as in the US, saying:
“British and US imperialism together are the biggest terrorist force on the planet, just look at the hellholes of Iraq and Afghanistan. And we know that the British state kills too here at home, it doesn’t have the death penalty but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t kill. We will never forget the shooting down in cold blood of Jean Charles de Menezes on a Tube train in 2005, that is the Labour government’s racist ‘war on terror’ brought here
. The British state and its Labour government demonises today the Muslim population just as they have framed up and jailed innocent Irish Catholic people like the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six. We say drop the charges against Aamer Anwar who is a Scottish lawyer facing contempt of court charges today for his defence of his client against bogus ‘terrorism’ charges, part of the anti-Muslim witch hunt.”
In Britain, black people are subjected to stop-and-search at least six times more — and Asians twice as often — as whites. And black deaths in police custody continue with impunity. On 25 April Edward Sharman, a 32-year-old black man, was detained on suspicion of burglary and died in a London hospital five days later; on 11 May 23-year-old Ayodeji Awogboro was arrested for a traffic offence, taken to Islington police station where he “became unwell” and also died in hospital. Underlining the racist nature of the British state, Klein said: “For black people Britain has always been a racist hell
. The reality for black youth whose parents or grandparents may have been brought here to do jobs no one else wanted to do for the worst pay, today in de-industrialised Britain, for those youth there aren’t any jobs, so they’re written off and told they have no future.”
Speaking for his region of the Communication Workers Union, Paul Moffat addressed the protest saying: “We are here today in absolute support from the Eastern Region for our brother”, and noted that the court’s decision confirmed “that his freedom will not be through any reliance on the capitalist corrupt courts and their politicians” but only “through total mobilisation of the broadest number of forces”. Moffat has been fighting for over two years to mobilise support for Mumia’s case in the CWU; now the Midlands Region has taken up the campaign and sent the protest a message offering “the support of the 30,000 members of the Communication Workers Union in the Midlands Region”. Dean O’Hanlon, secretary of the Finsbury Park branch of the powerful RMT, pointed out the branch banner behind the speaker’s mike, noting “We’ve had a commitment towards the campaign to free Abu-Jamal since the 1980s.” Steve Hedley, an activist in the RMT who has long campaigned for Mumia’s freedom, spoke of the inspiration drawn from the US civil rights movement by those like himself who became political through opposition to British imperialism in Northern Ireland. “We were inspired by the ideas, and ideas don’t have any colour”, adding “we shouldn’t let people try to divide us, because the capitalists love nothing better”.
However, opposition to the capitalists’ racist divide-and-rule cannot be achieved simply on the basis of calls by reformist groups such as the SWP for “black and white, unite and fight”. Racism is inherent to the capitalist system and the struggle against it must be linked to the struggle for socialist revolution to overthrow the capitalist order, which must be fought for in opposition to Labourite reformism. We as Leninists insist that a central imperative in the building of a revolutionary workers party is that the working class as a whole take up the fight against racist oppression as an integral part of the struggle for its own emancipation. Understanding that the interests of the working class and minorities either advance together or fall back separately, we fight to mobilise the multiethnic working class in integrated struggle against the brutal racist oppression that is inherent in capitalist society.
Brother Omowale spoke on behalf of Galaxy Radio which is connected with a network of black nationalist and Pan-Africanist organisations and had publicised the protest. Omowale stated: “We’re here to give our support to the fight for freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal
. That’s what unites all of us.” He explained, “capitalism was born on the blood of African people”, referring to the birth of the capitalist system out of feudalism and slavery and pointed out: “In capitalist countries, Africans catch an extra degree of hell” in addition to the workers, adding, “that’s a double oppression” while “African women get a triple oppression”.
Two of the endorsing Pan-Africanist organisations, the Pan-Afrikan Society Community Forum and the Afrikan Liberation Day Organising Committee, issued their own leaflet for the united-front protest. Speaking on behalf of the Marcus Garvey Organising Committee, Brother Minkah made clear the separatist strategy for black liberation that is the core of black nationalism, saying: “I don’t need white people to tell me about capitalism. It was the enslavement of African people that mainly gave birth to this vicious system.” Minkah urged support for Toyin Agbetu, arrested in March 2007 at Westminster Abbey for shouting denunciation during the hypocritical church commemoration of the end of the African slave trade attended by Tony Blair and the Queen. We demand: Drop the charges against Toyin Agbetu!
The black nationalism and separatism espoused by the followers of Marcus Garvey, including its “back to Africa” perspective, is based on despair of achieving equality for blacks in the European and American imperialist centres, promoting separation between the struggles of black people against racism and the struggles of the working class. We reject the black nationalist programme which would deny blacks their birthright: the wealth of this country that their labour has played a decisive role in creating. Our programme is for voluntary integration based on full equality for all, the precondition for which is the overthrow of the capitalist order through socialist revolution.
As Spartacist League speaker Julia Emery said:
“What is necessary is to mobilise the multiethnic working class for the revolutionary overthrow of British imperialism once and for all. For us the fundamental dividing line in society is class. This economic system offers no hope for youth, for minorities, for the working class. The British ruling class has long used racist divide-and-rule between communities; the only way to defeat the ruling class is through integrated class struggle. The multiethnic working class, for example in the London Tube and buses, has the potential power to shut down the City
“We seek to build a party that fights against all instances of discrimination, what Lenin called a tribune of the people: we fight against racism, against Islamophobia, against racism against blacks, against anti-Semitism, for women’s liberation, for gay rights and for full citizenship rights for all immigrants! We fight for an international socialist planned economy and for a federation of workers republics in the British Isles, part of a Socialist United States of Europe! We are internationalists: Our motto is workers of the world unite! And today we say workers of the world unite for freedom for Mumia!”
Emery took up as well the riots in Tibet and the “free Tibet” protests occurring in connection with the Olympic torch in London and elsewhere, saying these are counterrevolutionary provocations against the Chinese deformed workers state. Trotskyists unconditionally defend China and the other deformed workers states — Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam — against imperialist attack and capitalist restoration. We fight for proletarian political revolution to oust the parasitic Stalinist bureaucracies. This is counterposed to the view voiced from the platform by Corinna Lotz of A World to Win who denounced China by including it in a list of oppressive “capitalist states”. Such anti-communism is typical of the Labourite left who stand with “democratic” British imperialism against the deformed workers states as seen in their support for counterrevolution in the former Soviet Union in 1991-92.
Highlighting our differences with the Labourite reformists, with the May local elections looming Emery called for no vote to Labour mayor Ken Livingstone, the supposed “lesser evil” in the London mayoral contest, who backed the cops including when they shot down Jean Charles de Menezes, and called for crossing RMT picket lines in the Underground; and she noted that the Labour government fueled the racist climate in which the vile Boris Johnson was able to get elected. We called for no vote to Respect’s Left List, headed by the SWP’s Lindsey German, which acted as a shill for Livingstone calling for giving him a second preference vote. Moreover Respect is not even nominally a working-class organisation but a cross-class coalition, which precludes Marxists extending it critical support in elections.
Emery also took up the so-called International Bolshevik Tendency (BT), an organisation marked by utter contempt for the fight against racist oppression everywhere including in the US. The BT has distinguished itself in seeking to be the microbe that poisons the trade-union centred mass protest necessary to free Mumia. Insofar as they have become 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” for our opposition to the reformists’ strategy of reliance on the capitalist state. Reformists in Britain such as the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and Socialist Party wilfully ignored our united-front protests and responded with a deafening silence to the March ruling that upheld Mumia’s conviction. This is in contrast to their gushing support to prison guards during their “strike” last year.
For its part the BT in London refused to endorse the PDC-initiated demonstration while trying to sabotage it by maintaining a pretence that they were organising a demonstration at the same time and place and on the same slogans. On 17 April the PDC emailed the BT saying, “In the interests of fighting for Mumia’s freedom, we think it is obvious that there should be one demonstration.” The BT’s “mobilising” of course existed only in virtual reality and in the end they brought out some half-dozen — mainly themselves — to the protest initiated by the PDC. The BT also promoted a Potemkin-village protest in Dublin that featured a speaker from the anarchist Workers Solidarity Movement who questioned Mumia’s innocence without a peep in response from the BT.
At the London protest, Emery pointed to the BT’s dubious history on the question of the struggle against black oppression:
“In 1985 the Philly cops bombed the MOVE commune and incinerated an entire black neighbourhood killing eleven people including five children. The Spartacist League in the US was almost unique on the left, raising a huge outcry of protest. The BT, like most of the left, remained silent. That is until we organised a memorial meeting for the victims of the MOVE commune — the survivors. [The BT] attacked the Spartacist League for not making a polemic against MOVE philosophy the centre of a memorial meeting for those who survived the government’s incineration of this black neighbourhood.
“At the height of the mass protests internationally that stayed Mumia’s execution in 1995, they provided ammunition to none other than the Wall Street Journal which retailed the Bolshevik Tendency’s slanders of the Spartacist League as a ‘deranged cult’, to smear the efforts of the PDC and others on Mumia’s behalf. This is an organisation that is not to be taken at its word.”
When the SL launched a series of trade union/black mobilisations to stop the Klan and Nazis in major US cities in the early to mid 1980s, the BT denounced us for abandoning trade-union work in favour of “community organising”. We can only guess why an organisation that cares nothing about black oppression would get involved in Mumia’s case. What we do know is that the BT — an organisation 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 organisation.
Reformists demobilised a mass movement — rebuild the movement for Mumia!
Our fight has been and continues to be to spark mass protest, centred on the power of the organised working class, demanding Mumia’s freedom. But that class-struggle perspective and understanding of the capitalist state — including that for class-war prisoners such as Mumia, there is no justice in the capitalist courts — is denigrated by many of those who claim to be fighting for Mumia internationally. What was once a mass movement in the streets for Mumia’s freedom was demobilised by the reformist organisations behind the various committees internationally active around Mumia’s case, who have pumped out illusions in the very courts which have kept Mumia caged on death row for 26 years. This includes the SWP in Britain, which briefly took up Mumia’s case in 1999-2000, on the basis of calling for a “new trial”. This strategy of reliance on the capitalist state is based on illusions in the courts and “justice” system that framed and incarcerated Mumia and has repeatedly demonstrated its determination to kill this innocent man. Our fight to free Mumia is integrally connected to our struggle to mobilise the working class and oppressed to fight in their own interests to overthrow capitalism.
As Marxists, we oppose the death penalty on principle, including in the deformed workers states such as China. In the US the death penalty is the legacy of chattel slavery on which the country was founded; it is the lynch rope made legal. The fight for Mumia and to abolish the racist death penalty is part of the fight for black liberation and the broader fight for socialist revolution. The death penalty is the ultimate weapon of state terror, in the US upheld by the two main parties of racist capitalism, Democratic and Republican, and most bourgeois politicians including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Against illusions in Obama, widespread among youth and minorities in the US, SL speaker Reuben Samuels said at the Oakland protest:
“Democratic front-runner Barack Obama confronts race to take race off the agenda in the service of flag-waving national unity around the so-called ‘war on terrorism’, war on Muslims, war on Palestinians. Oh yes, Obama claims the civil rights movement brought us 90 per cent of the way to racial equality. But the courageous foot soldiers of that era did not stand up to Klan and cop terror in order to see their hopes and dreams washed away in the racist travesty of post-Katrina New Orleans, or after they protested Jim Crow justice in Jena, to see lynch ropes hanging from the halls of Columbia University to the docks of LA.”
Beginning over 15 years ago, PDC attorneys Rachel Wolkenstein and Jon Piper, who were then part of Mumia’s legal defence team, uncovered massive evidence of Mumia’s innocence. This includes witness William Singletary, who said Mumia was not the shooter; witnesses Veronica Jones and Pamela Jenkins, who testified that the prosecution witnesses were coerced into lying; forensic evidence that proved the prosecution’s story of the shooting was totally fabricated; and the sworn confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, shot and killed Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. Mumia’s own declaration in 2001 stated, “I did not shoot Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. I had nothing to do with the killing of Officer Faulkner. I am innocent.” Yet the Court of Appeals decision repeats every single lie of the cops and the prosecutor.
As more and more evidence of Mumia’s innocence was brought out — powerful weaponry in the fight to mobilise mass protest — the liberals and reformists mobilised around the call for a “new trial”, encapsulating their programme of the reformability of the capitalist state and its courts, and carrying the implication that Mumia’s innocence is questionable. In contrast to the liberal strategy of reliance on the capitalist state, an 8 April “Open Letter to Fighters for Mumia’s Freedom” by the PDC in the US noted that the 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.” The open letter also stated:
“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 battle to free Mumia is at a critical juncture. To rekindle mass international protest, which in 1995 stayed the hand of the executioner then poised to carry out the death sentence, requires politically taking on and defeating those preaching faith in the capitalist courts. The campaign for Mumia must make a leap from the hundreds mobilised in protest after the court ruling to hundreds of thousands in every corner of the globe demanding Mumia’s freedom. What is vital now is to turn the endorsements and statements of support for Mumia from the international trade union movement into workers actions. As PDC counsel Rachel Wolkenstein underlined at the Mexico City united-front protest: “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!... 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.”