06 February 2015
Free All Class-War Prisoners!
29th Annual Holiday Appeal
(Class-Struggle Defense Notes)
The Partisan Defense Committee’s 29th annual Holiday Appeal events raised many thousands of dollars to sustain the monthly stipend program for 15 class-war prisoners and provide holiday gifts to them and their families. Held over the last two months, fundraisers in Oakland, Chicago and New York, and smaller gatherings in Los Angeles and Toronto, drew longtime PDC supporters, youth activists and trade unionists. Notably, scores of workers in the Bay Area snapped up tickets to the Oakland fundraiser, while in Chicago the United Auto Workers civil rights committee presented a check to the PDC at that union body’s Martin Luther King Jr. tribute dinner.
The Holiday Appeal took place following the nationwide outpouring of protest against racist cop terror touched off by the refusal of grand juries to indict the cops who killed Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Missouri. The Bay Area fundraiser was attended by a representative of the Black Friday 14, a group arrested while protesting the exoneration of Brown’s killer on November 28. Those activists had briefly stopped Bay Area Rapid Transit trains between San Francisco and Oakland (see page 9).
With the stipend program, which began in 1986, the PDC regularly sends money to the class-war prisoners, men and women locked up for their opposition to racist capitalist tyranny. The $50 monthly stipends are not charity but basic acts of working-class solidarity, a reminder to the class-war prisoners that they are not forgotten. The prisoners use these funds to buy basic necessities like food, or to pursue literary and artistic endeavors that help ameliorate the living hell of prison life.
The class-war prisoners have spent decades behind bars, singled out for standing up to the system of exploitation and oppression. Mumia Abu-Jamal spent three decades on death row, and now remains condemned to life in prison without parole. A former Black Panther Party spokesman, supporter of the MOVE organization and award-winning journalist known as “the voice of the voiceless,” Mumia was framed up for the 1981 killing of a Philadelphia police officer.
Other class-war prisoners include Leonard Peltier, the American Indian Movement activist framed up in the 1975 killing of two FBI agents, and Albert Woodfox, who has languished in solitary confinement for decades in retaliation for organizing a Black Panther Party chapter in Louisiana’s Angola prison and fighting the wretched conditions there. Jaan Laaman and Thomas Manning were part of the Ohio 7, a radical group that took credit for bank “expropriations” and bombings of symbols of U.S. imperialism in the late 1970s and ’80s. Ed Poindexter and Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa were leaders of the Omaha National Committee to Combat Fascism. Like so many other former Black Panther supporters, the two were targets of the FBI’s deadly COINTELPRO program, which left 38 Panthers dead.
Hugo Pinell, the last of the San Quentin 6 still in prison, is a militant anti-racist activist who led struggles for prisoner rights. A year ago, he was transferred from Pelican Bay solitary, where hunger strikes drew attention to the torture of such isolation. His daughter, Allegra Taylor, read a letter from Pinell to the Oakland Holiday Appeal (see page 9), and concluded: “It is my dad’s wish that every solitary confinement unit throughout the world, not just the state of California, be shut down.”
Several of the class-war prisoners took note of the recent anti-police brutality protests in their letters to the Holiday Appeal. Spartacist League and Spartacus Youth Club speakers at the events linked the struggles of the prisoners with those of today, seeking to educate a new generation of fighters in the lessons of the past. Above all is the vital precept that the capitalist state, with its repressive machinery of the police, courts and prisons, cannot be reformed to serve the interests of working people.
The PDC is guided by the class-struggle defense work of the International Labor Defense (ILD) of James P. Cannon, who went on to become a founder of American Trotskyism, in the 1920s. The ILD’s stipend program initially included over 100 class-war prisoners. Among them were California labor leaders Tom Mooney and Warren Billings, framed up for a bombing at the Preparedness Day parade in San Francisco during World War I in 1916, and Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, immigrant anarchist workers executed in 1927 for a robbery/murder they did not commit. The list of ILD stipend recipients grew rapidly to include striking Passaic textile workers, as well as Illinois miners whose fights with the bosses over wages pitted them head-on against the KKK.
The prisoners in the PDC program are drawn heavily from the ranks of fighters against racial oppression, which is woven into the social fabric of this capitalist society. The PDC is prepared to defend, as was Cannon’s ILD before it, “any member of the workers movement, regardless of his views, who suffered persecution by the capitalist courts because of his activities or his opinion” (Cannon, First Ten Years of American Communism, 1962). Affiliated to the early Communist Party, the ILD fused the militant traditions of the Industrial Workers of the World (that popularized the injunction “An injury to one is an injury to all!”) with the internationalism of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. That revolution was made not just for Russian workers but for the workers and the oppressed of the entire world.
We stand unconditionally on the side of working people and their allies in struggle against capitalist savagery. As the SL speaker Marianne Clemens observed at the Oakland fundraiser: “The fight to defend these heroic class-war prisoners is integral to the fight to overthrow capital. In the end, our work links them with the struggle to forge the multiracial revolutionary Leninist party that can lead the workers to victory, open the prison doors and uproot this rotten, death-dealing capitalist system once and for all.”
With sorrow and bitterness, we reported in WV No. 1060 (23 January) that Phil Africa, a longtime stipend recipient, died at the State Correctional Institution in Dallas, Pennsylvania, on January 10. Phil had been incarcerated since he was framed up, along with eight other MOVE family members, for the killing of a Philadelphia police officer during the 1978 cop siege of MOVE’s Powelton Village home. We will keep Phil’s memory alive by continuing to fight for all class-war prisoners.
We were honored to welcome Lynne Stewart as a speaker at the New York Holiday Appeal on January 24. A leftist attorney who had for over three decades defended Black Panthers, left radicals and many others reviled by the capitalist state, Stewart herself was imprisoned in 2009, the victim of a “war on terror” show trial. She was convicted of giving material support to terrorism because she had communicated a client’s views to Reuters news service. That client was a blind Egyptian Islamic fundamentalist cleric who had been convicted in an alleged plot to blow up New York City landmarks in the early 1990s. Her conviction set a precedent for tearing up the basic right to counsel.
Diagnosed with terminal Stage IV breast cancer, Stewart had her sentence vindictively quadrupled at the instigation of the Obama administration. The 75-year-old Stewart remained unbowed and was finally granted a compassionate release from a federal prison hospital in Texas at the end of 2013. While in prison, she was a stipend recipient. Her husband Ralph Poynter, who joined her at the event this year, frequently spoke to her case at past Holiday Appeals. Her remarks at this year’s event are excerpted below, along with those of SL and SYC representatives.
To support the work of the PDC, send your contributions to: PDC, P.O. Box 99, Canal Street Station, New York, NY 10013; (212) 406-4252.
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Max, New York Spartacus Youth Club
Many of the young activists who have been ignited in just outrage over cop killings are buying into the illusion of police reform. They look to the federal government to do the right thing and to punish the people who are doing its dirty work. Politicians and their reformist hangers-on lamely call for police body cameras. But Eric Garner’s death was captured on video, from the beginning of his harassment to his final words, “I can’t breathe.” Ramsey Orta, the man who filmed this execution, was thrown in jail on bogus charges. We say: Drop the charges against Ramsey Orta now!
Some demonstrators have called for “state and federal oversight of all police officers.” Eric Holder’s Justice Department went through the motions of a civil rights investigation, only to let Mike Brown’s killer off the hook yet again. This is the same federal government that tortures and rains death on thousands of people around the world. This government sent Chelsea Manning to rot in prison for exposing just a fraction of these crimes. Drop all charges against anti-police brutality protesters! Free Chelsea Manning! Free all the class-war prisoners!...
With black oppression rooted in this system of production for profit, cop terror is used by America’s rulers to maintain the forcible segregation of the black masses at the bottom of society. Efforts to reform the police cannot change its fundamentally anti-working-class and racist nature. The cause of black freedom will be a great driving force in the struggle for a socialist America and a great achievement of workers revolution. When those who labor rule, ripping the economy out of the hands of the capitalist rulers, and reorganize it on a socialist basis, only then will the wealth of this country be used for the benefit of those who produced it. Only then will it be possible to eliminate the material roots of black oppression through the integration of black people into an egalitarian socialist society.
There is no future for youth in the capitalist system, an irrational and inherently racist system based on the exploitation of working people at home and abroad. The only way out of this hell is through workers revolution. This will be achieved through the struggle of the multiracial working class, under the leadership of the revolutionary vanguard party.
The SYC fights for free, quality, integrated public education for all! For open admissions, no tuition and a state-paid living stipend for all students! We want to win the best of the militant black and multiracial youth, who think the chant “Hands up don’t shoot” doesn’t cut it. We say: “Fists up for class struggle!” We say to those fed up with con men, fed up with cold-blooded killings deemed “justifiable homicide,” to those looking for “justice”: you must start with the program of revolutionary Marxism, that is, Trotskyism. For black liberation through socialist revolution! Join the SYC!
I want to say a very, very heartfelt thank you, thank you, thank you. It was the people who got behind me when I first arrived in a federal prison hospital, and made sure that they so intimidated the administration by all the mail I received—don’t forget to sign the cards [greetings to the prisoners]—that they moved me to a floor where I had much better care. I didn’t have to climb three flights of stairs just to eat every day, where I could go to the library, etc. But that was all due to the tremendous pressure that began and built from the people outside, of which you were a very, very strong part.
I know you made Ralph and me into a tag team. I would write the blog and he would accept the speaking engagement on any form of media that was available. But I can’t express to you what it meant when those petitions kept growing and growing and growing, demanding my release, on the basis of compassionate release, which it was, and which eventually, to the greatest surprise of Ralph and me, actually worked. Because we’ve been in this movement a long time, 50 years—well, he’s in longer than I am, but I’ve been in 50 years—and you keep on plugging, you keep on keeping your finger in the dike. And you do everything you can, and you just say, “Well, something’s gonna work someday.” And then when it does, it’s a revelation. That’s all I can say, it really is a revelation....
We have a lot to do, there’s no question about that. But I’m just glad I can step up again and do that. And of course, having been behind those walls, I understand how dehumanizing it is to be beset every day by what is arbitrary authority. Just as these young people were stopped by cops and confronted arbitrary authority, to their detriment, and ended up dead, so in jail every day that arbitrary authority wears on you. It’s a guard who says “A” on Thursday, and on Friday he’s saying “B.” And you say, “But you said,” and he says, “Don’t tell me what.” Anything and everything is operational. You can be written up for anything. And that is brain numbing and it is mind killing and it is heartbreaking.
And as I say, I have never met anyone who got out of jail who didn’t feel that the worst thing was leaving the people behind them, that you could not go back and somehow rescue all of them. Because so many of them deserve to be rescued, not necessarily because of the crime they committed, or they were innocent, or any of that, but because they were treated so badly by this system, which your young Spartacist so eloquently described, that this system betrayed them from the moment they were born, and that they have never gotten recompense for that....
When I was in jail, I got a poem that Ed [Poindexter] had written, which I actually distributed far and wide, among the women at Carswell. It was a poem about the use of the word “n---a” and how young people use the word n---er all the time: “he’s my n---a,” “let’s do that n---a,” and about how they just don’t get it. They don’t have the background to know what that word meant. And this poem just puts it so well, and I gave it to people and they’d come back and they’d say, “Thank you. I gave that to my friend, and we decided we’re not going to do that anymore.”
And I think that is the most remarkable thing: from behind the walls, these folks continue to operate politically; they continue to put out their thoughts. Jaan Laaman is another one. He puts out a magazine; he’s constantly in touch with Prison Radio. Now he’s a person, another name, you may not know real well. But they are worth getting to know, and I tell you, if you have the time to be a correspondent, to correspond with someone in jail is really a treat. It’s a wonderful thing, because it’s so important to the person in jail, and it can be so enlightening to all of us....
I have stories of women who died, literally almost before my eyes, and they died because of neglect. And so these places are death camps, as Ralph says. And it’s only us, the vigilance from people on the outside, that can save the people on the inside.
Paula Daniels, Chicago Spartacist League
Obama came into office trumpeting the myth of an end to racism, declaring that the civil rights movement had brought the country 90 percent of the way to racial equality. What crap. I need only mention the names Eric Garner and Michael Brown to explode the deadly lie of an alleged post-racial America. The Grand Jury exonerations of the killer cops expose the class nature of the capitalist courts.
In this same two-week period, 12-year-old Tamir Rice and 28-year-old Akai Gurley were blown away by cops less than 48 hours apart. The bourgeoisie has made clear that the essence of the words of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Taney, delivered in the infamous Dred Scott decision nearly 160 years ago, is still very much alive. The black man has no rights a white man is bound to respect....
We are here tonight to honor a small handful of capitalism’s victims, locked away for taking a stand against racism, capitalist degradation, injustice—some locked up for much longer than the 29 years that we have been sending stipends to these fighters. I would be remiss if I didn’t pay tribute to the 45th anniversary of the murder of Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. Shot down just blocks from here almost to the day. Amid the blood and bullet holes (76 bullets from the cops, one from the Panthers), lay a copy of Lenin’s The State and Revolution on Hampton’s bed. There was no indictment for these killer cops either. The Panthers shared our desire to see capitalism smashed, though they looked toward the lumpenproletariat as the instrumentality rather than the organized working class as the agent for black freedom and socialism. For the most part, they were hunted down and imprisoned....
On the eve of the great revolutionary upheavals in Europe in 1848, British Lord Palmerston was speaking to the Austrian ambassador about the reactionary and repressive measures of the hated State Chancellor Prince Metternich. He said, “Your repressive and suffocating policy is also a fatal one and will lead to explosion just as certainly as a boiler that was hermetically sealed and deprived of an outlet for steam.”
We too live in a bit of a boiler of repression and contradictions today. Though not completely hermetically sealed—there are some built in outlets. The black Democrats and preachers help blow off some steam and the trade union bureaucrats keep a lid on class struggles. All of these are obstacles to the independent mobilization of the working class to fight in our own interests. Obstacles, but not foolproof. In Ferguson, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton clearly had lost some credibility, receiving boos and catcalls from protesting youth. That’s a good thing. However, absent a class struggle perspective, this anger will only be recycled back into the dead end of pressuring the “powers that be” to behave in a more just and humane manner....
Help us build the multiracial revolutionary workers party dedicated to fighting for black liberation, women’s liberation, and lead the struggle to free the working class and the oppressed across the globe from the chains of exploitation, poverty, and imperialist war. Those who labor must rule!
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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1061, 06 February 2015)
Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.