Spartacist Canada No. 188
Annual Holiday Appeal
Solidarity With Class-War Prisoners
Partisan Defense Committee
The Partisan Defense Committee held its annual Holiday Appeal in January, raising thousands of dollars for its program of sending monthly stipends to class-war prisoners. For three decades, the PDC has sent money to those imprisoned for standing up to racist capitalist repression and has also given holiday gifts to them and their families. Support for class-war prisoners is not an act of charity but an act of solidarity from those fighting on the outside to those behind prison walls. A fundraiser was held in Toronto on January 16, while others took place in New York, Chicago, Oakland and Los Angeles. Attendees included trade unionists, former political prisoners and others.
Launched in 1986, the PDC stipend program revived a tradition of the International Labor Defense (ILD). Under James P. Cannon, a founding leader of the U.S. Communist Party and the ILD’s first secretary (1925-28), that organization provided support to over 100 class-war prisoners. Today, we send $50 a month to each of 14 prisoners: former Black Panther and MOVE supporter Mumia Abu-Jamal; American Indian Movement spokesman Leonard Peltier; Michael Africa, Debbie Africa, Janine Africa, Janet Africa, Delbert Africa, Eddie Africa and Chuck Africa of the Philadelphia MOVE organization; Jaan Laaman and Thomas Manning of the Ohio 7; and former Black Panther members and supporters Mondo we Langa, Ed Poindexter and Albert Woodfox. Woodfox was finally freed from prison on February 19 after nearly 44 years in solitary confinement—longer than any other U.S. prisoner.
The PDC’s support to the prisoners helps ameliorate the harsh conditions of prison hell, both by reminding them that they are not forgotten and to help them buy things they need in prison, such as snacks, postage, writing materials and sometimes art supplies. As expressed by Ed Poindexter in his greetings to the Holiday Appeal: “Having been abandoned by my five-member team of attorneys, it’s heartening to know that your generous donations are enabling me to retain the services of a new attorney, and for that I’m profoundly thankful.”
This year’s Holiday Appeal was dedicated to the memory of two recently deceased class-war prisoners. Phil Africa died under suspicious circumstances in January 2015. Phil and eight others known as the MOVE 9 were wrongly convicted and sentenced to 30-100 years for the killing of a police officer during a 1978 raid on their home. Hugo Pinell, a courageous anti-racist activist who fought vehemently for prisoners’ rights, was brutally assassinated in New Folsom prison in August 2015, two weeks after his release into the general prison population after 40 years of solitary confinement. Pinell was the last of the San Quentin 6 still in prison. They were framed up on charges stemming from the prison upheaval sparked by the August 1971 assassination of Black Panther Party member George Jackson by guards.
Pinell’s daughter Allegra Taylor was a featured speaker at the Oakland fundraiser. A poignant tribute to Hugo was also sent by his San Quentin 6 comrades, Willie Sundiata Tate and David Johnson, who recalled: “Those of us who knew him loved him, and those that he railed against hated him because he would not stand by and watch injustices being perpetrated by racism and white supremacy.” On Hugo’s decades in solitary, they noted, “He never broke…and never lost touch with his humanity.”
Medical needs are a constant concern for many of the aging class-war prisoners. The generally dismal state of prison health care is exacerbated by the state vendettas against them. Thomas Manning’s letter to the event queried whether the prison authorities would allow him to receive desperately needed neck and back surgery. Leonard Peltier was recently diagnosed with a life-threatening abdominal aortic aneurysm. Participants at the New York City fundraiser heard a report of a recent PDC visit to Mumia, including an update on his recent medical crisis.
The New York gathering also welcomed Lynne Stewart. As a lawyer, Stewart spent decades defending Black Panthers and leftist radicals until she was arrested in 2009 and subjected to a frame-up “war on terror” show trial for defending an Islamic cleric imprisoned for an alleged plot to blow up New York City landmarks in the early 1990s. After nearly dying in prison from breast cancer, Stewart was finally released in late 2013 after a months-long fight for compassionate release, a demand supported by more than 40,000 petitioners worldwide, including the PDC.
Every year, a highlight of the Holiday Appeals is the opportunity to hear from the prisoners—and former prisoners—themselves. Participants at the Toronto event heard the greetings from Mumia, Poindexter and Laaman, while letters from other class-war prisoners were on display. Bruce Allen—the president of Unifor Local 199, speaking in a personal capacity—elaborated on the importance of the prisoners’ medical needs. He pointed to the case of Albert Woodfox, a member of the Black Panther Party who was framed for killing a prison guard in 1972: “Like Mumia, like Leonard Peltier and others, life in prison for him is in effect an exercise in slow death precisely because it involves deliberate indifference to his health and right to life.”
Describing the systematic and racist nature of medical neglect of prisoners under capitalism, Allen continued: “These things clearly point to the compelling need for us to win immediate release for Mumia, Albert Woodfox, Leonard Peltier and all other political prisoners precisely because their release effectively is a clear and unequivocal matter of life and death…. The fight for their liberation is synonymous and inseparable from the fight for our liberation.”
Trotskyist League spokesman John Constant began his remarks by citing the great Communist leader Rosa Luxemburg, who wrote that “both crime and punishment have, in the last analysis, their roots deep in the organization of society.” Constant denounced the vile social system that breeds such injustice, explaining: “We live in a world divided into classes whose social interests are directly opposed to one another. On one hand, there is the working class whose labour produces the wealth and commodities around us, and on the other is the capitalist class who own the factories and means of production and whose bank accounts overflow from the wealth that workers create. The capitalist class are the true criminals in this society.” The capitalists, he emphasized, use their police, jails and executioners “to repress those who fight against this brutal system—folks like the people who we are celebrating tonight.”
The Toronto fundraiser also heard from a member of the Ligue trotskyste in Montreal who experienced police violence and mass arrests firsthand during the 2012 Quebec student strike (see “Quebec: State Repression and Class Struggle,” page 6).
Opposition to the repressive “war on terror” was another focus of the Toronto event. A PDC spokesperson cited the former Tory government’s Bill C-51, which was adopted last year with Liberal support. “All kinds of speech and protest activity may now be considered threats to national security,” she explained, adding: “The ‘war on terror’ hysteria gives a green light to racist and anti-Muslim acts like the burning of a mosque in Peterborough and the attack on a woman wearing the veil in Flemingdon Park whose hijab was ripped off and who was repeatedly punched, sending her to the hospital…. Increased police powers target the population into accepting the holy ‘law and order’ of oppressive capitalism.”
While Muslims are the immediate target, the labour movement is also subject to increased repression. Bill C-51 outlaws any interference with “critical infrastructure” or “the economic or financial stability of Canada.” Among other things, this is a direct attack on workers’ right to strike. Meanwhile, unionized port workers in cities like Vancouver face draconian security measures in the name of the “war on terror.”
James P. Cannon described the defense work of the ILD as a “school for class struggle,” an opportunity to learn the real nature of the capitalist state. We urge our readers to support the work of the Partisan Defense Committee and to write to the class-war prisoners. Become a PDC sustainer to help drive the work forward. Send contributions to: PDC, P.O. Box 314, Station B, Toronto ON M5T 2W1. For more information on how to contribute and how to correspond with the prisoners, go to partisandefense.org.
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.