PDC/ICL Protest Court of Appeals Decision

This is the first issue of Class-Struggle Defense Notes to appear since before the April 2008 protests organized by the PDC to demand: “Mumia Abu-Jamal Is Innocent! Free Mumia Now! Abolish the Racist Death Penalty!” The PDC and our sister organizations internationally, in conjunction with the Spartacist League/U.S. and the other sections of the International Communist League, held these united-front demonstrations to protest a federal appeals court ruling upholding Abu-Jamal’s 1982 frame-up conviction in the killing of a Philadelphia policeman. Based on his political beliefs and activities, Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther Party spokesman and later supporter of the MOVE organization, was framed up and railroaded to death row. The courts have either rejected or refused to hear the mountain of evidence, including the confession of Arnold Beverly, clearly establishing that Mumia Abu-Jamal is an innocent man who should never have spent a day in prison.

During the week of April 19-26, PDC demonstrations were held in Oakland, London, Toronto, Chicago and Los Angeles. Protests were also held in Sydney, Australia and Mexico City. Through these rallies hundreds of leftist activists, trade unionists, anti-racist militants and others were able to express their outrage over the U.S. government’s continuing vendetta against Abu-Jamal. While joining together in solidarity with Mumia, the participants were also able to freely debate their political views on many questions. Speakers from the PDC and ICL argued strongly that would-be opponents of racism and repression must understand that “there is no justice in the capitalist courts.” We also put forward a strategy centered on mobilizing the labor movement to demand Mumia’s freedom—the social force with the unique power that could make the state pause in its determination to either kill Mumia or lock him up for life in order to intimidate perceived opponents of their class rule. We also fought for this perspective with class-struggle defense contingents in protests called by others.

Some of our opponents on the left, as well as supporters of black and Latino organizations, gay groups, union activists, among others, also addressed the PDC rallies, putting forward a variety of other viewpoints. Typically, such views place faith in one or another capitalist party or agency of the capitalist state to bring enough pressure to force a “new trial” which will, it is presumed, be fair to Abu-Jamal at last. In the United States, the election of the country’s first black president has only strengthened these illusions among those who futilely seek to “reform” this system based on exploitation of the working class on the bedrock of racist oppression. Thus, in addressing the Pennsylvania state conference of the NAACP in August 2009, Pam Africa, leader of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, hailed the presence in office of a black president and attorney general “at the same time,” to be “a godly thing.” Accordingly the “new” strategy of many of our opportunist opponents is to orient toward winning the heart of Eric Holder, President Obama’s attorney general (see article, page 9).

The PDC-initiated demonstrations also allowed many labor organizations around the world to register their support for Abu-Jamal’s freedom. Trade-union federations in South Africa, Greece, Poland and Scotland endorsed the demonstrations. Other endorsers included Cynthia McKinney, 2008 presidential candidate for the bourgeois Green Party, and authors Cornel West, Robert Allen, Manning Marable and the late Cuban writer Celia Hart. A statement of solidarity was sent by Leonard Peltier, the American Indian Movement leader who remains unbowed after decades in federal prison. Some 40 trade-union locals endorsed the united-front protests, representing workers in transport, waterfront, auto, steel and communications, as well as postal workers and teachers.

While the expressed solidarity of labor organizations and officials was very welcome, it was a far cry from what is needed. Multiracial unions representing millions of workers are on record in support of Mumia. But these millions have not been mobilized in action. The responsibility for this lies with the pro-capitalist trade-union misleaders, who mostly refuse to call their members into action to defend their immediate economic interests, much less in support of a black political prisoner. The union bureaucracy’s class-collaborationist politics, which tie the working class to the capitalist enemy, have dissipated the fighting strength of the unions. Accordingly, the commitment to Mumia’s freedom requires a fight for a class-struggle leadership in the unions which will take up his cause as part of the struggle to do away with the whole capitalist system and establish a socialist society.

This perspective is thoroughly counterposed to that of our reformist opponents who seek to cuddle up to imaginary “progressive” forces in the Obama administration. They palely reflect the politics of the pro-capitalist labor bureaucrats who stomp on the notion of class struggle. Instead, the labor tops preach that American workers should unite with their “own” bourgeois rulers against the targets of U.S. imperialism as well as working people of other nations and immigrants here at “home.”

Unfortunately, in the face of these huge obstacles, the PDC and our ICL comrades fell prey to impatience and programmatic bending. This was expressed in vainly substituting our own small forces for the absence of a mass movement to free Mumia. We increasingly tried to create a “movement” through our subjective efforts, despite the lack of an objective basis for such a movement—a broad recognition among workers and activists of the stakes involved in Mumia’s fight for freedom coupled with a shared sense of urgency following the court’s decision. This meant that the ICL was increasingly liquidating politically and organizationally into a movement that barely existed.

We confused the correct understanding that our reformist opponents’ faith in the justice of the capitalist courts played a role in politically demobilizing the potential for a mass movement on the streets for Abu-Jamal’s freedom with the misguided notion that we could “revitalize” such a movement, if only we wanted to enough. After a struggle, the last Spartacist League National Conference reaffirmed the determination to be guided by the Trotskyist political program in orienting ourselves in the present political period. Our readers should see “Thirteenth National Conference of the SL/U.S.—‘Dog Days of the Post-Soviet Period’” in Workers Vanguard No. 948, 4 December 2009. These and other problems with our campaign on behalf of Mumia (and in other aspects) are described in that report. Articles cited here may be ordered by mail (see mailing address in ad below) or accessed on the ICL Web site (www.icl-fi.org).

Part of our reorientation is to return to the roots of communist defense work. In particular the SL Conference reasserted the correct understanding of the united front as a tactic whose aim is to embed the revolutionary program in the masses. Premised on full freedom of criticism among the participating organizations, the united front is described in the classic phrase as “march separately, strike together.” As conceived by the Communist International at its Third Congress in 1921, the united-front tactic was intended mainly for large Communist parties with a sizable base in the proletariat. It is only under exceptional circumstances, usually where there is a defensive situation and a widely shared sense of urgency, that a small revolutionary vanguard like the SL can compel larger reformist forces to engage in a united front—or expose their prostration before the bourgeois class enemy if they refuse. Such objective circumstances do not exist around Mumia’s case, in this period marked by a dearth of class struggle in the U.S. and a worldwide rollback of proletarian consciousness and confidence after the counterrevolutionary destruction of the USSR.

An educational presentation at the SL national conference by Joseph Seymour emphasized that “Our use of the united front is an adaptation of the tactic as it was originally conceived and implemented. This adaptation necessarily involves many differences, some obvious, others not so obvious. Thus the characteristic form of the original united front was a military action: a strike, a mass demonstration against government policies (sometimes involving a one-day general strike), defensive actions against the fascists” (see “The United Front Tactic: Its Use and Abuse,” Workers Vanguard No. 941, 28 August 2009). While we will continue to organize events (for example, campus antiwar protests, strike support rallies or meetings calling for Mumia’s freedom) where spokesmen of different organizations participate, such activities are more a form of agitation than a united-front action in the original sense of the term.

The PDC and SL remain determined to continue to fight for Mumia’s freedom in our press and through activities appropriate to our size and resources. Participation in demonstrations called by other professed defenders of Abu-Jamal, the organization of revolutionary contingents around the SL/PDC’s demands and the mobilization of our own forces in demonstrations are all possible responses that may be appropriate in response to developments in Mumia’s case. We support the pursuit of any possible legal avenue while placing no faith in the justice of the courts but only in the power of the working class. The PDC remains fiercely proud of our massive efforts made over many years, including the groundbreaking work of our attorneys—from debunking the phony ballistics evidence to exposing the state’s coercion of witnesses to detailing the multiple constitutional violations—virtually every legal argument that Mumia’s defenders stand on is based on this work.

No less important has been the powerful propaganda published by the PDC and ICL which multiply proves his innocence and exposes the politics behind the frame-up of this courageous partisan of the oppressed. U.S. capitalism was erected on the bedrock of slavery and racist oppression. This most dangerous ruling class in history depends on its games of “divide and rule” to keep setting sections of the working people against each other through racism, anti-immigrant bigotry, male chauvinism, religion and every other backward ideology. But even today the racist ruling class fears articulate voices such as Mumia’s, in whom they see the spectre of black revolt. For us the fight for his freedom is part of the struggle to do away with an economic and social system based on grinding exploitation, oppression and naked state terror.