Spartacist South Africa No. 5

Spring 2007


Mobilise Labour’s Power!

Mumia Abu-Jamal Must Be Free!

Mumia Abu-Jamal, the foremost political prisoner in the U.S., has been on death row for a quarter of a century, isolated in a cell that he describes as living in a toilet. The racist U.S. rulers seek to forever silence this powerful “voice of the voiceless.” A former Black Panther Party spokesman, supporter of the MOVE organisation and award-winning journalist, Mumia was framed up in 1982 on false charges of killing a Philadelphia police officer. A passionate fighter against racial, ethnic and class bias, against cop terror and for social justice, Mumia was sentenced to die on the basis of his political history and beliefs. His frame-up shows what the death penalty is all about. Racist and barbaric, it is the lynch rope made legal, the ultimate weapon of state repression against the working class and oppressed.

The U.S. federal appeals court will pronounce on Mumia’s fate imminently. But there should be no illusions in these proceedings. For 25 years both the Pennsylvania state and federal courts have rejected or refused to even consider overwhelming evidence of Mumia’s innocence, including the sworn confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, shot and killed the police officer. In Mumia the state sees the spectre of black revolt. They are determined to carry out his legal lynching or bury him in the living hell of life in prison. This must not happen!

Mass protest to demand immediate freedom for this innocent man needs to be rekindled now! The Partisan Defense Committee—a class-struggle legal and social defence organisation associated with the Spartacist League/U.S.—stands for pursuing every legal avenue on Mumia’s behalf while putting no faith in the “justice” of the capitalist courts. It will take an international mobilisation of the masses, centrally the workers movement, to secure Mumia’s freedom. When he faced execution in 1995, a world-wide mass outpouring of protest, including from unions representing millions, stayed the executioner’s hand. This struggle was demobilised by those who organised protests subordinating the demand for Mumia’s freedom to the call for a new trial, a course which fostered illusions in the very “justice” system that railroaded Mumia to death row in the first place.

The case of Mumia goes to the heart of the role of the bourgeois state—police, courts, gaols and the standing army—as an instrument of violence and coercion in the hands of the ruling capitalist class. All talk about the state being “neutral” can only be a result of crass ignorance or conscious deception. The South African working class and the oppressed masses are no strangers to the use of the death penalty as a tool to silence political opponents. Many fighters against apartheid perished through legalised state murder as well as disappearances at the hands of government death squads like the Vlakplaas Civil Cooperation Bureau’s operatives, including apartheid mass murderer Dirk Coetzee.

International protests were crucial in saving leading anti-apartheid and working-class leaders like Nelson Mandela and Moses Mayekiso from the apartheid death gallows. Though the death penalty was subsequently abolished in South Africa, there is huge pressure for its reinstatement as the contradictions between a constitution which in some aspects is among the most liberal in the world and the realities of poverty, inequality and disillusionment at the base of society continue to dog the rulers of the neo-apartheid capitalist “new” South Africa. The working class must be at the forefront of the fight against attempts to bring back the death penalty.

The South African working class and poor must join with all those opposed to capitalist oppression and the death penalty in demanding: Freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal now! The American black oppressed minority was one of the leading international allies of the South African poor in the fight against apartheid, mainly because they saw the oppression of South African blacks as a mirror image of their own oppression as a race-colour caste, the special oppression of which forms the bedrock of American capitalism.

The support of South African workers in the early 1990s played a critical role in winning increased support for Mumia internationally. This working class was part of the international labour-centred protests that forced the stay of execution after the signing of the death warrant in mid-1995. Leading trade unions like COSATU, NACTU and NUM have joined the current fight to save the life of this innocent man.

The fight for Mumia’s freedom is the fight against capitalist tyranny and injustice everywhere. His freedom will not be won through reliance on the rigged “justice” system or capitalist politicians. The power that can turn the tide is the mobilisation of the workers movement which has the social power to shut down production. The struggle to free Mumia is part of the fight for black liberation, and the broader fight for socialist revolution and therefore the liberation of us all.

Mumia must not die! Fight for his immediate release now!