Spartacist Canada No. 172
Free the Class-War Prisoners!
(Partisan Defense Committee)
“The labor movement must be awakened from its slumber and must be roused to the menacing significance of the attempt of the capitalists to break the morale of the working-class by imprisoning its best fighters.”
—International Labor Defense Resolution, 1925
The Partisan Defense Committee’s annual Holiday Appeal was held in Toronto on January 20. Together with benefits in several U.S. cities and in Vancouver, participants raised funds for the PDC’s program of annual stipends and holiday gifts to 16 class-war prisoners. These include former Black Panther Party members, American Indian Movement activist Leonard Peltier and others imprisoned by the ruling class for standing up to racist capitalist oppression. Our support to these prisoners is an expression of non-sectarian, class-struggle defense: it is the duty of the workers movement to defend such victims of capitalist repression regardless of their particular political viewpoints.
The program was preceded by a screening of the powerful PDC documentary From Death Row, This Is Mumia Abu-Jamal, which traces the FBI and Philadelphia cops’ campaign during the 1970s to target Mumia, an award-winning journalist and broadcaster known as “the voice of the voiceless” for his outspoken opposition to police terror and his defense of the MOVE organization. The racist state vendetta against Mumia culminated in his frame-up conviction and death sentence for the shooting of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981. The video was followed by the taped confession of Arnold Beverly, stating that he, not Jamal, shot and killed Faulkner. On display on the PDC’s literature table were materials extensively documenting Mumia’s innocence and the international fight for his freedom.
With the December 7 announcement by the Philadelphia district attorney that he won’t seek another death sentence, Mumia is no longer under threat of execution. We share the joy of his close friends and family, who are now allowed physical contact with him, free from the inhuman restrictions of death row for the first time in decades. But it remains an abomination that this innocent man, who has spent 30 years entombed, is condemned to a living death in prison.
A statement by Jaan Laaman was read to the meeting. Laaman, with Tom Manning, is the last of the Ohio 7 anti-imperialist activists still in prison—convicted for bank “expropriations” and bombings of symbols of U.S. imperialism in the late 1970s and ’80s. During the Vietnam antiwar movement, many young radicals shared their politics, having written off the possibility of winning the working class to a revolutionary program. But the Ohio 7 came to be spurned by the “respectable” left. From the standpoint of the proletariat, these men and women committed no crime, and it is our duty to defend them regardless of our substantial political differences. Laaman, who remains unbowed, warmly acknowledged the PDC’s support in his moving letter. To the torment of Laaman’s isolation from his family has been added the terrible news of the tragic death last October of his son Rick in Boston, thousands of miles from the Arizona federal prison where he is being held.
Around the room were posters, letters and displays honouring the 15 other class-war prisoners, whose plights must not be forgotten. Leonard Peltier has now spent more than 35 years in prison for his activism on behalf of North America’s oppressed Native peoples. Eight MOVE members (Chuck, Michael, Debbie, Janet, Janine, Delbert, Eddie and Phil Africa) are in their 34th year of prison—for the sole “crime” of having survived a massive cop assault on their Philadelphia home in 1978.
Former Black Panther Party supporters Ed Poindexter and Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa, framed up in the FBI’s deadly COINTELPRO operation against the Panthers, have been languishing behind bars for more than 40 years. Hugo Pinell, a militant anti-racist leader of prison rights organizing, is the last of the San Quentin 6 still in prison—he has been there since 1964. Also honoured was radical lawyer Lynne Stewart, long known for her defense of the Black Panthers and other leftists. Stewart was convicted in the witchhunting aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks for conducting a vigorous defense of her client, a blind Egyptian cleric imprisoned for his alleged role in plotting to blow up New York City landmarks in the early 1990s. U.S. Democratic president Barack Obama’s Justice Department intervened to quadruple Stewart’s original sentence to 10 years—and this for a 72-year-old woman with cancer. The examples above by no means exhaust the causes and cases for which the working class needs to mobilize.
Two guest speakers, both union leaders, travelled from out of town to address the participants. Dave Bleakney, a national representative of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), which has been a longtime supporter of the fight to free Mumia, highlighted the intensified attacks on unions in the current political climate. Bleakney described recent instances of RCMP and police harassment against CUPW, including its national officers, following government strikebreaking against the union last spring. He remarked: “It’s very much an indication of the increase in boldness of the capitalist state right now to basically go after mainstream trade union organizations in this country.”
Bruce Allen, vice president of the Niagara Regional Labour Council, spoke forcefully of how Mumia’s imprisonment “mirrors the retribution” meted out to the Angola 3, former Black Panther Party members who have spent decades in solitary confinement in Louisiana. Allen commended the PDC’s annual Appeal for Class-War Prisoners, saying:
“It attests to your fearless defense of political prisoners, most of whom receive little if any support from most of the left, and certainly not sustained support predicated upon the understanding that offering such solidarity is a matter of fundamental political principle as well as an expression of class solidarity.
“This is exemplified by your unwavering and three-decades-long support for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Such support is as necessary as ever, given the retribution being systematically inflicted upon Mumia in the wake of the state’s abandonment of efforts to execute him for a crime he never committed and was in fact clearly framed for.”
Sophia Florence spoke for the Trotskyist League/Ligue trotskyste, placing the current all-sided attack on workers across the country squarely in the context of the Canadian imperialists’ crimes abroad. “The very day CUPW was forced back to work,” she noted, “foreign affairs minister John Baird visited Canadian NATO troops in Italy, where he signed a bomb destined for use against Libya that included the message: ‘This postal service don’t strike’.” Emboldened by the imperialists’ success in Libya, Ottawa is joining Washington and Tel Aviv in war threats against Iran. The grand prize for imperialism, however, is the re-enslavement of China, which remains a workers state, though deformed by a parasitic Stalinist bureaucracy. As Florence pointed out: “It is in the interest of workers everywhere to stand in defense of China and the gains of the 1949 Revolution.”
The PDC means it when we say “An injury to one is an injury to all!”—the slogan originally championed over a century ago by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Before taped greetings to the gathering from Mumia were played to wrap up the formal part of the gathering, a PDC spokesman concluded her remarks by pointing to the work of former IWW militant James P. Cannon, who carried this tradition forward:
“James Cannon was the secretary of the International Labor Defense (ILD) and he was a leader of the Communist Party in the U.S., and later the founder of American Trotskyism. He wrote many articles for the ILD in defense of labour militants and revolutionary political figures. This included anarchist workers Sacco and Vanzetti—innocent men who were executed by the American ruling class. Time after time, in these articles Cannon said: ‘No faith in capitalist justice and institutions.’
“For us, as for Cannon, class-struggle defense work is a ‘school for the class struggle.’ In that spirit, we understand that the state cannot serve the interests of the working class. A socialist revolution will sweep it away, and replace these barbaric institutions with a society in which those who labour rule.”
The PDC is a class-struggle, non-sectarian legal and social defense organization which champions cases and causes in the interest of the whole of the working people. This purpose is in accordance with the political views of the Trotskyist League/Ligue trotskyste. To support the PDC’s work, including in defense of the class-war prisoners, write/send your contributions to: Partisan Defense Committee, P.O. Box 314, Station B, Toronto ON M5T 2W1.