Articles From
Defense Notes
No. 35, Spring 2008

Class-Struggle Defense and the Fight to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal

This article is reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 908 (15 February).

We print below a speech, edited for publication, by Partisan Defense Committee counsel Rachel Wolkenstein given at the New York City Holiday Appeal for Class-War Prisoners on 16 December 2007.

When we took up Mumia’s case in 1987, he was not America’s foremost political prisoner. In fact, hardly anybody knew who he was. We were introduced to Mumia by the MOVE prisoners whom we had begun defending after the government bombing of the MOVE commune in Philly in 1985. This was also around the time when we, starting in 1986, began our program of sending monthly stipends to class-war prisoners. But, quite frankly, it’s the work begun by the PDC—and taken up by many, many other organizations—that has made Mumia the man who represents what the death penalty is all about, who is the foremost class-war prisoner in the U.S., and who has come to represent the fight for black liberation in this country and the fight against the death penalty internationally.

Maureen Faulkner, widow of Police Officer Daniel Faulkner, and a man by the name of Michael Smerconish have just published a book called Murdered by Mumia. It came out on December 6. Interestingly enough, Smerconish’s foreword is dated December 9, after the publication of the book, to coincide with the 26th anniversary of the date of Faulkner’s killing and the beginning of the frame-up of Mumia Abu-Jamal. This book, which came on the eve of an anticipated decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, is a total rehash of the police and prosecution lies to falsely convict Mumia for the killing of Faulkner on December 9, 1981. It is an orchestrated attack written with support from arch-reactionaries. Smerconish, a man who considers that Abu Ghraib was not a question of torture, worked with Frank Rizzo, the notorious, racist, brutal police commissioner and then mayor of Philadelphia.

Murdered by Mumia was written with the support of other people who are known in the far-right wing. This book is not just a right-wing tract that can be dismissed as such. It is a call for Mumia’s execution. It is also an assault on those bourgeois liberals who from time to time have wavered on the question of Mumia’s innocence and instead have called for having him spend the rest of his life in prison, for burying him alive. It makes clear that there are only two sides in Mumia’s case. On one side is the struggle to fight for his freedom, based upon his innocence and the fact that he is a victim of a racist and political frame-up. On the other side, there are the forces of racist law and terror, led by the Fraternal Order of Police, who demand his execution.

I am not going to go through all the prosecution’s lies, which are virtually endless. We have written about them in our PDC pamphlets, including the pamphlet, The Fight to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal—Mumia Is Innocent! (July 2006). Smerconish and Faulkner repeat over and over that Billy Cook (Mumia’s brother) and Mumia have never stated what they saw happen the night Faulkner was killed. They act as if the declarations Mumia and Cook wrote and submitted in 2001, along with the submission of the confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, killed Faulkner, as well as other evidence, simply do not exist. In fact, the declarations and Beverly’s affidavit are on the original Daniel Faulkner Web site! Faulkner and Co. make no bones about the political nature of Mumia’s frame-up. They reiterate the prosecution’s line that Mumia’s Black Panther Party membership proves that he’d been planning to kill cops for years. They write that D.A. Joseph McGill “successfully established that Abu-Jamal had an anti-police, anti-establishment, anti-government philosophy that accounted for his desire to murder Danny.”

When we first took up Mumia’s case, it was primarily on the question of freedom of speech. Here is a man, Mumia, the only man in recent decades who, as far as we know, was sentenced to death because of his exercise of his First Amendment rights: Mumia was a member of the Black Panthers in his youth, and 12 years before the killing of Faulkner, he was interviewed after the police killing of the Chicago Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. He said in the interview that the government was trying to get the Panthers, that the Panthers should face reality. He called for “all power to the people” and noted that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” And for that Mumia was sentenced to death, because that was considered to be the proof that he had always intended to kill cops!

In the book, Maureen Faulkner also paints a vicious, lying portrait of the MOVE organization, of which Mumia is a supporter. His support of MOVE is also part of the reason why he was framed up in 1981. You all saw the PDC video, From Death Row, This Is Mumia Abu-Jamal, and you saw the bombing of the MOVE commune in 1985. You heard Mumia speak about how this was done under black Democratic mayor Wilson Goode, with the ATF and the FBI assisting and providing the bomb. Faulkner claims that MOVE “was responsible” for the bombing—that is, the killing of eleven MOVE members, including five children and the incineration of the entire neighborhood. She doesn’t describe the circumstances of the bombing.

Faulkner uses thinly veiled racist terms to describe Mumia’s writings, his supporters and the MOVE organization—code language for pure out-and-out racism. She also has a whole chapter on one of her major supporters, a guy by the name of Joey Vento who runs a well-known cheesesteak place in Philadelphia. Vento is known for having a sign in his window saying, “This is America. When ordering please speak English.” Faulkner hails this, which tells you who this book is addressed to.

The determination of the bourgeoisie to kill Mumia or imprison him for life is no less than the determination the bourgeoisie showed for killing the two anarchist martyrs, Sacco and Vanzetti, who were executed in 1927; or for killing the Rosenbergs, Communist Party supporters executed in 1953 on charges of giving “secrets” on the bomb to the Soviets. Political repression is part and parcel of the workings of the capitalist injustice system, and it is supported by both parties of American capitalism, Democrats as well as Republicans. And it is intended to intimidate, silence and punish those who raise their voices in opposition.

Mumia Abu-Jamal Is an Innocent Man!

The PDC video most of you saw tonight was made some 17 years ago. But the man that you heard speak there is the same man who is in prison today. He has not changed his political views one iota. He said then that he was fighting to create revolution in America, “revolution means change, it means total change.” Mumia has not been intimidated into silence since then. He continues to be the voice of the voiceless, denouncing the imperial and colonial slaughter and destruction in Iraq, denouncing the U.S. rulers’ disdain for the black and the poor left to die in the face of Hurricane Katrina, defending immigrants, defending workers on strike. Now, Mumia is no Marxist revolutionary. He is not a supporter of the Spartacist League. But to the capitalist rulers, Mumia represents the spectre of black revolt, of defiant opposition to their system of racist oppression. For them, Mumia is a dead man on leave.

The fight to free Mumia also involves a political struggle within the movement of those who say that they are fighting to defend Mumia. Why is that? Because the social power to free Mumia is embodied in the international working class, but there are obstacles to unleashing that power. The so-called left serves to tie working people to the view that the bourgeoisie can somehow be reformed, that capitalism can be reformed. And so we have yet another struggle with two opposing sides. On one side are those bourgeois liberals, trade-union misleaders, so-called leftists that are sowing illusions in the “fairness” of capitalist justice. On the other side, there is the PDC and its supporters and cothinkers, and our line of class-struggle defense, which means having no illusions in capitalist “justice” and putting all faith in the power of the masses.

Today’s world is profoundly shaped by the impact of the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state in 1991-92 following the decades of Stalinist rule there. And as the bourgeois rulers proclaim the lie that we’re in the period of the “death of communism,” the bulk of the left, which in the main joined in the imperialist anti-Soviet campaign, places its political activity solidly within the framework of the “democratic” capitalist order. In the 1960s and 1970s, nobody talked about a new trial for Huey Newton, or a new trial for Angela Davis, or more recently a new trial for Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt). The fact that the reformist left subordinates the fight for Mumia’s freedom to the call for a new trial is not an accident: it is a direct reflection of the post-Soviet period we are in and what we call the retrogression of consciousness.

The reformist left ties people—who, through Mumia’s case, could otherwise be won to the understanding of the nature of the capitalist state and what the necessary fight is—to a false view that somehow the justice system under capitalism can be made to be just. The many liberals and reformists who call for a new trial for Mumia also fling mud on the Beverly confession. Here’s a man who confessed to shooting Faulkner, and instead of people saying, “Hey this is great, we got somebody who confessed,” and looking at the mountains of evidence supporting his confession and explaining all the crazy nonsensical things in the prosecution’s case—the reformists and liberals say it is a terrible thing. They even cast doubt on Mumia’s own statement—the statement that he presented in state and federal court—declaring, “I had nothing to do with the killing of Officer Faulkner. I am innocent.” Do you ever hear anyone besides us say that Mumia has declared his innocence and explained what he saw happen that night? No. Instead you have people who are heralded on platforms by most of the rest of the left, people like David Lindorff and others who say something like: I sort of defend Mumia, but you know it’s possible, even likely, that he really did shoot the cop. And that passes for people who say that they are defenders of Mumia.

Now why does that happen? Again, it goes back to the political period we are in, and the necessary fights we have to wage. It goes back to the whole question of what the Beverly evidence represents. What does it mean to understand that in this case there was collusion between the cops and the mob and the D.A. and the judges to see Mumia convicted of murder, to see him executed? It means that there is not just one rogue cop, or one racist judge—though Sabo is definitely a racist judge—or one D.A. who is “overzealous.” It is an indictment of the entire bourgeois legal system, which is class-biased and race-biased.

And what liberals want to do—and what the so-called left agrees with—is to attempt to clean up the “justice” system’s bad image. They say that it was only one bad cop, and only Judge Sabo who is the racist, that the rest of them aren’t that bad, that federal court judge Yohn is really an honorable man, that the Third Circuit is the most liberal in the country—though, of course, it’s where reactionary Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito comes from. They say this even though Marjorie Rendell, the wife of Democratic Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, the former D.A. who prosecuted Mumia, sits on that court. What does all that amount to except trying to refurbish the credentials of the “justice” system?

For Class-Struggle Defense!

As Marxists—and the PDC has a Marxist worldview—we understand that the cops, the courts, the prisons, the armed forces, are the core components of the capitalist state, the machinery of organized violence that protects the rule and profits of the exploiting class. We believe that the justice system, at every single level in Mumia’s case and in other cases, has declared that Mumia has no rights that it is bound to respect. This is like what was done by the Supreme Court before the Civil War in the infamous Dred Scott decision, which upheld slavery and declared that black people have no rights that whites are bound to respect.

A “new trial” is a code word for a program of reliance on the capitalist class and on some sort of benevolent Democratic Party politician, on some good judge; a code word for sowing illusions that fighters for the oppressed can obtain justice from the capitalist courts. This has retarded the political understanding of those who joined the struggle for Mumia and has ultimately served to demobilize the movement for Mumia’s freedom. It is no accident that in the lead-up to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals hearing this past May, there were very few protests and events organized on Mumia’s behalf. The events called by the PDC and its cothinkers internationally numbered a modest few hundred here or there. But those were the largest events that there were. What does that tell you about the demobilization of a movement that once numbered in the millions?

I want to make a point: I’m a lawyer, and the work that I personally did and Jonathan Piper, another lawyer associated with the PDC, has done in Mumia’s case when we were on the legal team from 1995 to 1999 represents hundreds and hundreds of hours of legal work. I’m not saying that it wasn’t good work to do. But the purpose of this legal work was not only to have a fight in court, but to provide key evidence for a movement that would take this evidence and fight in the streets, mobilizing the working class in the fight for Mumia’s freedom. The organized working class has the power to actually scare the hell out of the bourgeoisie and to let them know that if something bad happens to Mumia, there will be a social explosion. This perspective is part of understanding that the fight for Mumia is part of the fight for black liberation, for that of all working people and the oppressed, which requires socialist revolution.

I also want to make the point that if bourgeois law were followed, Mumia’s conviction should be thrown out, dismissed, no new trial, no nothing. This is because there is constitutional law stipulating that if the police and the prosecution withhold evidence from the defense, if they suppress evidence of Mumia’s innocence, if they frame people up, it is a violation of due process for which the charges can be dismissed. So all the talk about needing a new trial to free Mumia is a lot of legal bunk. It’s a way to give support to those who want to destroy a movement that could be based on the fact that Mumia is an innocent man who must be freed. The legal papers we filed called for dismissal of the charges. The call for a new trial does not even have legal credibility; it expresses the politics of sellout, a betrayal of everything that Mumia represents.

I would just like to note that when a death warrant was signed in 1995, there were protests around the world for Mumia’s cause, including protests based on trade unions representing millions of workers from South Africa and Europe to the U.S. The mobilizations were built on the fact that Mumia’s frame-up conviction was political and racist, and that the death sentence was the call for racist legal lynching. And the very particulars of Mumia’s case provide powerful lessons, that Mumia’s freedom can be wrested from the state only by the independent action of the working class acting with consciousness of its social power to withhold its labor, to shut down industry, communications and transportation. Mumia’s case has the power to deepen workers’ militancy, class solidarity and the recognition that the fight for black rights, for immigrant rights and to end exploitation and oppression is one fight.

What we need is class-struggle defense. We need united-front defense for Mumia based on a class-struggle program. This means, as an initial basis, that we agree that Mumia is an innocent man. Free him now! Abolish the racist death penalty! We are prepared to work with any organization that supports those slogans, understanding that we will continue to criticize other forces in this united front on other political issues. And there are a number of different political issues here. As I said, Mumia is not a Marxist.

Finally, I want to say this: the labor movement, the revolutionary movement internationally, has had its share of martyrs. We don’t want more martyrs. We don’t want Mumia to be a martyr. And he must not become a martyr to the racist viciousness of American capital. The power to free Mumia exists in the international working class and our task is to rekindle and build a mass international mobilization based on the social power of the working class and its many allies to fight for Mumia’s freedom. Free Mumia now!