Saturday, May 07, 2011

When Literature Talked Politics- The Role of Literature In Revolutionary Politics-17th Century Style

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for John Milton's Paradise Lost. Then you are on your own. But read it.

Book Review

Politics Of Discourse; The Literature and History Of Seventeenth-Century England, edited by Kevin Sharpe and Steven N. Zucker, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1987


No question these days in modern European democratic societies literature, high literature anyway, and politics do not mix, except by accident. This however has not always been true, and as the academic book under review here, Politics of Discourse, testifies to in the early modern democratic period the fit between the two was far tighter than the modern mind could imagine. And no where was this combination more prevalent that in 17th century England, from the immediate pre-revolutionary period through to the late restoration period. The specialized essays that make up this volume give a pretty clear impression that, at least at the level of “high culture” and courtier/bourgeois society, one could not be knowledgeable about the affairs of the day without reading the polemics, parables, and panegyrics of such luminaries as Ben Jonson, William Shakespeare, John Milton, Andrew Marvell, Thomas Carew, and John Dryden.

Of course the 17th century in England was the high point, or rather one of the high points, in the struggle over the role of religion in public life from such questions as toleration, an established state church, the nature of worship and liturgy, religious qualifications for public office, and the great internal and foreign policy struggles between international Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. So public men, literary sorts or not, had be aware of the stakes involved when they went about the business of polemicizing for their views. No question that given the very undemocratic nature of monarchical society under James I and Charles I (and the later Charles and James) that one had to couch their polemics for their positions in oblique terms. This is, after all, the great age of the parable, the masque, and the ethereal epic poem. Moreover, democratic stirrings or not, religious sentiment in public and private life at both the patrician and plebeian cultural levels drove all literary and political conversation, especially the manic drive to prove one’s point by reference to Scripture. Still this period produced some of the masterworks of English literature, none better than John Milton’s defense of Republican England under Cromwell, in Paradise Lost.

That said this book is not for those who are not at least somewhat familiar with the history of 17th century English, especially some knowledge of the issues around the titanic struggles in mid-century in the revolutionary period, the Puritan Revolution proper. With that in mind there are a few outstanding essay here worthy of taking the time to read: a great exposition on the Scottish historical sources that Shakespeare may, or may not have been familiar with when creating his saga on monarchical legitimacy in Macbeth; an interesting study of a literary patroness, Lucy, Countess of Bedford, to detail the audience that any literary figure needed to address their works to; a generally overlooked subject during this period, that of a courtier literary figure and his defense of the monarchy, Thomas Carew; the trials, tribulations and twists of a literary politician trying to read which way the wind was blowing in creating his works, Andrew Marvell; the usages of the fable in the Restoration period to telegraph dissent (a literary devise still necessarily in use today, unfortunately); and, lastly, a couple of great essays on the great defender of the English revolution and of its republican virtues, John Milton.

Those last essays were my reason for reading this volume, especially the essay on the politics of Paradise Lost by Mary Ann Radzinowicz, featuring some ideas that the great British Marxist historian and Milton devotee Christopher Hill alerted us to in an earlier time, but the others mentioned deserve a reading as well.

Those Oldies But Goodies…Out In The Be-Bop ‘60s Song Night- The Tune Weavers’ “Happy, Happy Birthday Baby”

***Those Oldies But Goodies…Out In The Be-Bop ‘60s Song Night- The Tune Weavers’ “Happy, Happy Birthday Baby”



A YouTube film clip of the Tune Weavers performing their classic last dance school dance number, Happy, Happy Birthday Baby.

THE TUNE WEAVERS
"Happy, Happy Birthday Baby"
Happy, happy birthday, baby

Although you're with somebody new
Thought I'd drop a line to say
That I wish this happy day
Would find me beside you

Happy, happy birthday, baby
No I can't call you my baby
Seems like years ago we met
On a day I can't forget
'Cause that's when we fell in love

Do you remember the names we had for each other
I was your pretty, you were my baby
How could we say goodbye

Hope I didn't spoil your birthday
I'm not acting like a lady
So I'll close this note to you
With good luck and wishes too
Happy, happy birthday, baby
**********
Damn he never should have sent that note, that short, silly, puffed-up cry baby note trying to worm his way back into Lucy’s arms with memory thoughts about this kiss, or that embrace. And bringing up old seawall sugar shack beach nights holding hands against the splashed tides, against full moons, against tomorrow coming too soon; double date drive-in movies, speakers on low, deep-breathing car fog-ups on cold October nights, embarrassed, way embarrassed, when they surfaced for intermission's stale popcorn or reheated hot dogs; and, that last dance school dance holding tight, tight as hell, to each other as the DJ, pretending to be radio jockey Arnie "Woo Woo" Ginsberg, played Could This Be Magic? on that creaky record player used at North Adamsville high school dances since his mother’s time, ancient Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday times.

Damn, a scratchy, scribbly note, a note written on serious stationary and with a real fountain pen to show his sincerity, and not the usual half- lined sheet, pulled out a three-ring subject notebook, and passed to Lucy during their common study class. Notes the passing of which sometimes got them severe looks from the study monitor, Miss Green, and giggles and taunts, usually some lewd or luscious remarks fraught with sexual innuendo from their fellow students, boys and girls alike, about fogged-up cars and trash talk like that who also tried to intercept those precious notes without success. Ya, “the note heard round the world” that would expose him to all kinds of ridicule, endless be-bop jive patter, and snide questions about his manhood from guys, and probably girls too, around the school, hell, all around North Adamsville and maybe already had if Lucy decided to cut his heart out and tell one and all what a square he, Luke Jackson, was when all was said and done.

He could hear it now, and could hear the words ringing in his ears. What a soft guy Luke Jackson really was, a guy known to be a love ‘em and leave ‘em guy before Lucy. A guy, a used to be sharp guy who shrugged off more things that you could shake a stick at and came back swinging but who was getting all misty-eyed and cry baby just because some dame, a good looking dame in all the right places, yes, a dame all the guys were ready to pursue once he was out of the picture, but still a dame, a young high school dame, when all was said and done, got under his skin, like they were married or something. Hell, he thought, thought now too late, to himself, that he would have been better off, much better off, leaving it at calling Lucy on the telephone every few hours and either hanging up before she answered or when she did answer freezing up. But that was costing money, serious add up money, since he had to use a public pay telephone up the street from his house because the telephone service had been turned off for non-payment as his family could not afford to pay the bill the past few months.

Besides it was getting kind of creepy going in and out of the house at all hours, midnight by the telephone waiting like some lonely, awkward girl, walking up the street like a zombie, half mope, half dope, then hesitating before deciding to make the call, making it, or not, and then scurrying like a rat from the public glare of the booth. Christ, one time the cops looked at him funny, real funny, when he was calling at about midnight. And he had to admit that he might have called the police station a few times too after he looked at himself in the mirror upon returning home.

That note, sent the day before and probably in Lucy’s plotting hands right now, was a minute, a quick minute, brain-storm that he had thought up when he was just plain miserable, just plain midnight telephone tired too, and anyone could make such a rash decision under love’s duress, teenage love’s duress. Right then though all he could think of was all the notes, the cutesy, lined-sheet paper school-boyish notes, that he had sent her when love was in full blossom, full blossom before Jamie Lee Johnson came on the scene, came on the scene with his big old ’59 Chevy Impala, his money in his pocket, and his line of patter and stole his “sweet pea” Lucy away from her “sugar plum” Luke. And that picture sent him back to thoughts of when he and Lucy first met, when their eyes first met.

“Let’s see,” Luke said to himself it was probably at Chrissie McNamara’s sweet sixteen birthday party that he first laid eyes on her. Hell, who was he kidding, he knew that it was exactly at 8:32PM on the night of April 25, 1962 that he first laid eyes on her, big almost star-struck staring eyes. Or maybe it was a few seconds before because, to break the ice, he had gone up to her and asked her for the time, asked in his then bolder manner if she had time for him, asked her to dance, she said yes, and that was that. Oh, ya, there was more to it than that but both of them knew at that moment, knew somewhere deep down in their teenage hearts, they were going to be an “item,” for a while. And they were indeed sweet pea and sugar plum, for a while. Although Luke would get mad sometimes, fighting mad, fighting break-up mad, when Lucy teased, no, more than teased, him about his not having a car so that they could go “parking” by themselves and not always be on some clowny double-date down at the seashore on Saturday night (or any night in the summer). And Luke would reply that he was saving money for college, and besides sitting on the seawall (and sometimes in love’s heat down beneath its height), their usual habit, was okay, wasn’t it.

That simmer, that somehow inarticulated simmer, went on for a while, a long while. But Luke had noticed a few months back, or rather Lucy had made her sugar plum notice, that now that they were high school seniors sitting on the seawall was nothing but nowhere kids’ stuff and why did he want to go to college anyway, and wasn’t going to work down at the shipyard where he could earn some real dough and get a car a better idea. The real clincher though, the one that telegraphed to him that the heavens were frowning on him, was the night she, no bones, stated that she had no plans for college and was going right to work after graduation, and maybe, just maybe, she wouldn’t be able to wait for him. And that’s where things started to really break down between them.

Enter one Jamie Lee Johnson, a friend of Lucy’s older brother Kenny, already graduated from North Adamsville two years before and working, working steady with advancement possibilities according to the talk, as a junior welder down at the shipyard making good dough. Making drive-in movies and even drive-n restaurant good time dough, and driving that souped-up, retro-fitted, dual-carbed, ’59 Chevy, jet black and hung to the gills with chrome to make a girl breathless. And before Luke knew it Lucy’s mother was answering the phone calls for Lucy from Luke saying that she wasn’t in, wasn’t expected in, and that she, Lucy’s mother, would tell Lucy that he had called. The runaround, the classic runaround since boy meets girl time began, except not always done over the telephone. And while Lucy never said word one about breaking it off between them, not even a “so long we had fun,” Luke, although not smart enough to not write that sappy note, knew she was gone, and gone for good. But see she had gotten under his skin, way under, and well, and that was that.

Just as Luke was thinking about that last thought, that heart-tearing thought, he decided, wait a minute, maybe she didn’t get the note, maybe he had forgotten to put a stamp on it and as a result of those maybes he fished around his pocket to see if he had some coins, some telephone coins, and started out of the house prison to make that late night pilgrimage creep, that midnight waiting by the telephone creep. Walking up the street, walking up the now familiar night street-lighted against the deathless shadows Hancock Street he noticed a jet black ’59 Impala coming his way, coming his way with Jamie Lee and Lucy sitting so close together that they could not be pried apart with a crowbar. Luke thought about that scene for a minute, steeled himself with new-found resolve against the love hurts like in the old love 'em and leave ‘em days, threw the coins on the ground without anger but rather with relief, turned back to his house wondering, seriously wondering like the fate of the world depended on it, what pet names they had for each other.

From The Pages Of "Workers Vanguard"- All Labor Must Defend ILWU Local 10 (California)!-Union Attacked for Solidarity with Public Workers

Workers Vanguard No. 979
29 April 2011

Union Attacked for Solidarity with Public Workers

All Labor Must Defend ILWU Local 10!

Reliance on the Democrats: Recipe for Defeat

In their call for nationwide protests on April 4, the AFL-CIO tops said the day would be one of “rising up to support workers in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and other states.” But the only genuine labor action was taken by members of Bay Area Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), who overwhelmingly stayed away from work that day. The port of Oakland was shut down for 24 hours.

Now the shipping companies represented by the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) are gunning for the union with a lawsuit against Local 10 and its president, Richard Mead, demanding that the ILWU foot the bill for “damages sustained” by the PMA as a result of the port shutdown. Although no price is named, in a similar suit East Coast shipping companies are demanding that the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) pay $5 million for a two-day shutdown of the ports in New York and New Jersey last September in response to a union-busting attack on ILA jobs. According to the head of the PMA, the employers also want the courts to enforce an injunction against further work stoppages.

Local 10 longshore workers stood up against the assault on public workers unions. Now all of labor must stand up for Local 10! Stop the PMA’s union-busting attack!

That Local 10 members gave up a day’s pay in solidarity with embattled public workers unions is a real statement of the deeply felt anger and desire to fight at the base of the unions. This was also witnessed in the tens of thousands of workers who mobilized in protest outside the capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin, this winter. But the labor misleaders have done their level best to contain any militancy and redirect it back into support for the Democratic Party. This was the intended purpose of the April 4 “We Are One” rallies, as was baldly stated a week later by AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka in a speech to the National Women’s Democratic Club in Washington, D.C. Declaring that “the energy of working people is infectious and their solidarity and commitment are inspiring,” Trumka advised that “if Democrats are to take back the House in 2012, and to hold on to the White House and the Senate, it will be because they succeed in riding this wave.”

The price of the bureaucrats’ subordination of the unions to the political fortunes of the Democratic Party, which no less than the Republicans represents the interests of the capitalist class enemy, can be counted in busted unions, millions of unemployed and the living hell that is life for the ghetto and barrio poor and countless others who have been written off by a system based on the exploitation of labor. So beholden are the labor bureaucrats to the capitalist order that even the notion that there is a working class in this country has been deep-sixed, reflected in the pitch at the April 4 protests to “reclaim the middle class.” By the same token, the union misleaders were desperate to avoid the remotest hint of working-class struggle against the one-sided class war by the capitalist exploiters and their state.

At the “We Are One” rallies in Oakland and San Francisco, called by the Alameda and SF Labor Councils, the organizers would not even allow a speaker from ILWU Local 10, the only union whose members took any kind of actual labor action! There was no such censorship of a representative of the strikebreaking cops. One of the few speakers at the opening rally for the thousands-strong SF protest was the president of the Police Officers Association of San Francisco, who used the occasion to declare: “I am a member of labor just like you are.” Far from being “union brothers,” the cops are the armed thugs of the capitalist state whose job is to smash labor struggle. This would readily be seen if there were any real fight against the union-busting assault on public workers, just as it was seen when the SF police killed two workers in the 1934 longshore strike. The “bloody Thursday” assault by the cops was the spark for the citywide general strike that laid the basis for founding the ILWU.

The only speaker who even mentioned that Local 10 members had not worked on April 4 was the secretary-treasurer of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, Stephanie Bloomingdale. But this was not to promote any such action by others, much less to address the crying need to mobilize the power of labor in strike action to fight the assault on public workers unions. On the contrary. Bloomingdale hailed the Wisconsin judge who put a temporary stay on the implementation of the state’s union-busting bill for not letting Republican governor Scott Walker “get away” with it. But Walker did get away with it, as did the Ohio legislature, which passed an even more draconian anti-union law in the immediate aftermath.

In response to the PMA’s lawsuit against Local 10, the San Francisco Labor Council passed a resolution calling for a “mass mobilization of all Bay Area Labor Councils and the California AFL-CIO” on April 25 at PMA headquarters. But the Labor Council officials did little to nothing to mobilize their membership for this protest, which drew about 150 people. Fine words will not stop the union-busters!

The capitalist rulers have been winning the war against labor because the power of the working class has been shackled by the class-collaborationist policies of the trade-union leadership. Labor’s weapons are inherent in its collective organization—strike action, mass pickets, plant occupations, hot-cargoing of scab goods, etc. The capitalists’ arsenal is the state—the courts, cops and military. The 1934 SF general strike, and mass strikes in Toledo and Minneapolis the same year, were pitched battles between workers and cops and other strikebreakers. All of them were led by reds. The 1934 Minneapolis strikes, which forged the Teamsters as a powerful industrial union, were led by supporters of the Trotskyist Communist League of America. James P. Cannon, the founding leader of American Trotskyism, underlined the political program that lay behind this victory:

“The modern labor movement must be politically directed because it is confronted by the government at every turn. Our people were prepared for that since they were political people, inspired by political conceptions. The policy of the class struggle guided our comrades; they couldn’t be deceived and outmaneuvered, as so many strike leaders of that period were, by this mechanism of sabotage and destruction known as the National Labor Board and all its auxiliary setups. They put no reliance whatever in Roosevelt’s Labor Board; they weren’t fooled by any idea that Roosevelt, the liberal ‘friend of labor’ president, was going to help the truck drivers in Minneapolis.…

“Our people didn’t believe in anybody or anything but the policy of the class struggle and the ability of the workers to prevail by their mass strength and solidarity.”

—James P. Cannon, The History of American Trotskyism (1944)

If the unions are to wage the battles necessary for their own defense and in the interests of all the oppressed, they must be mobilized in opposition to the capitalist state and independently of all of the political parties of the class enemy—Democrats, Republicans and Greens. That means a political struggle to get rid of the sellouts sitting on top of the unions who strangle the workers’ fighting spirit. It is in the crucible of the class struggle that a new leadership of the unions can be forged. This is not simply a matter of militancy but, as Cannon pointed out, a question of political program. What is needed is a leadership that will arm the workers with an understanding both of their social power and their historic interests to free all of humanity from the exploitation, all-sided misery and war inherent to a system based on production for profit. Forging such a leadership is in turn an integral part of the fight for a multiracial revolutionary workers party whose aim is no less than doing away with the entire system of capitalist wage slavery through socialist revolution.

“Progressive” Labor Tops: Different Talk, Same Walk

In an interview on KPFA radio the day after the April 4 protests, ILWU Local 10 executive board member Clarence Thomas said that “one of the reasons” no Local 10 member was allowed to speak “is because the Democratic Party is not in favor of workers taking independent action.” True enough. But when asked if he was opposed to the unions continuing to pour millions into backing the Democrats and funding Obama’s re-election campaign, Thomas responded that the unions should support only those Democrats who would be “accountable” to the working class. In short, behind all the seemingly radical rhetoric that has historically been a trademark of the “progressive” labor tops in Local 10 is the same old shell game of peddling the Democrats as a party that can be made to serve the interests of the working class and the oppressed if, in Thomas’ words, their feet are “held to the fire.”

Last year, the Local 10 leadership pulled out all the stops to mobilize the ranks for the election of Democrat Jean Quan as mayor of Oakland. Boosted as a “friend of labor,” Quan was the headline speaker at the Oakland April 4 rally. Denouncing Wisconsin governor Walker for stripping public workers unions of the right to bargain for their members, Quan contrasted the good offices of her administration, declaring: “We will have layoffs but they will come as part of collective bargaining.” It would be hard to find a more chemically pure expression of the role played by the Democratic Party. The Republicans revel in taking out the knife to slaughter the unions. The Democrats hand the knife to the union bureaucrats to slash the wages and benefits of their members in the name of “preserving collective bargaining.”

That’s exactly what the union leaders following the Democrats, who had already agreed to such givebacks, were willing to do in Wisconsin. In California, the bureaucrats promote Democratic governor Jerry Brown, who has axed millions from social programs for the poor, as a man they can do business with.

But Quan’s appeal for the unions to sacrifice more jobs did not go down well with much of the crowd at the Oakland rally. She was drowned out in a chorus of booing, a response aptly described by one reporter as reflecting “a schism between the labor leaders who invited Quan to headline their rally and rank-and-file workers impatient with years of government cut-backs” (Bay Citizen, 4 April). It is precisely such burgeoning anger that the labor tops are working overtime to head off.

At the same time, calls for a “general strike” have been coming from left-talking bureaucrats like Ken Riley, president of ILA Local 1422 in Charleston, South Carolina. Heading into an “Emergency Labor Meeting” held in Cleveland on March 4-5, which was called to “explore together what we can do to mount a more militant and robust fight-back campaign to defend the interests of working people,” Riley said, “I don’t see any other way than a general workers strike.” But there was no call for any such action coming out of this meeting, which drew some 100 of the more radical-sounding and even “socialist” labor fakers and their hangers-on. Rather, the best they could choke out was that labor “must go to the streets,” meekly adding that “where possible” the participants would promote “industrial actions” on April 4.

Evidently, they did not find it “possible.” Instead, the April 4 protests are being portrayed as helping build “momentum” toward a general strike. This is simply to provide some militant-sounding cover for a program these labor fakers share in common with the top AFL-CIO officialdom: reliance on the capitalist state. The “perspectives” approved by those attending the Cleveland meeting advise: “There is plenty of money available without demanding givebacks from public employees, but this requires changing our nation’s priorities to raise taxes on the rich, redirect war dollars to meet human needs, and more—all demands that we must place on the federal government.” Far from building momentum for any kind of real labor action, much less a general strike, such appeals serve merely to dissipate and divert the workers’ anger into the illusion that the government can be pressured into serving their needs.

A central chant at both the SF and Oakland rallies was “tax the rich!” The banks, corporations and other capitalist enterprises are sitting on mountains of cash, the ill-gotten gains of a system based on the exploitation of labor for the profits of the few. But the working class is not going to get its hands on this money by appeals to the federal government, whose purpose is not to “meet human needs” but to defend and increase the profitability of American imperialism.

Capitalist governments might temporarily increase tax rates for the rich to meet the needs of the ruling class as a whole, such as gearing up for war or bailing out their economies at times of crisis. And in the face of class or other social struggle, the rulers may shell out some money to buy social peace. But once such peace is purchased, the benefits gained through struggle come under attack, and all the more so in times of economic crisis like today. What they take out of the hides of the working class and oppressed at home they invest in waging war against the workers and oppressed abroad to expand their spheres of exploitation and their domination around the globe. These “priorities” cannot and will not change short of getting rid of the profit system in which they are rooted.

For the workers to reclaim the wealth that is the product of their labor, they have to break the power of the bourgeoisie and its state. That means fighting for a workers government that will expropriate the expropriators and put the wealth of this society to serving the needs of society under a planned socialist economy.

Bureaucrats Feeling the Heat

It’s not just left-talking labor bureaucrats who are mouthing the words “general strike.” In his column in the March issue of the ILWU’s Dispatcher, the union’s International president, Robert McEllrath, wrote: “Holding a rally is usually the first thing we think of. It’s good to feel pumped-up for a few hours or even a few days, but they’re soon over and then people ask: ‘now what do we do?’ If the answer is, ‘hold more rallies,’ then maybe we need to think harder, because our goal has to be about winning public support, and if rallies don’t help us accomplish that goal, maybe we need to be doing other things such as a general strike across the United States with support from all unions and labor.” This is an extraordinary, indeed unheard-of, statement coming from an official in the upper echelons of the AFL-CIO bureaucracy, for whom the very mention of working-class struggle is to be avoided like the plague. While it lacks credibility, it is a measure of the desperation of at least some of the union misleaders as they feel heat from the ranks.

The industrial unions have been ravaged, with the rate of unionization in the private sector now below 7 percent. Public workers are now the majority of union members in the country, and the laws being brought down against them challenge their survival. Asking “Will we be able to win over workers—many who once belonged to unions—but have since seen their pay, benefits, and job security go down?” McEllrath argues: “The stakes in this fight couldn’t be higher, as it may determine whether the labor movement continues to shrink or survives long enough to organize and grow in the future.”

While the ILWU holds real social power in its hands, the union itself is an increasingly isolated bastion of labor organization in a sea of unorganized workers on the docks and the inland warehouses. The union leadership has done little to nothing to organize these workers.

Standing amid the wreckage that their sellout policies have produced over the past 30 years and more, McEllrath is expressing the bureaucrats’ concern for their own survival, which is, after all, dependent on having dues-paying members. To preserve their status, it is possible that they could be moved to take some kind of strike action. But that would not change their fundamental loyalty to the capitalist system, particularly as represented by the Democratic Party, which includes the labor officials among its key components. Following his musing over a general strike, McEllrath makes clear its purpose, arguing that “if we want more politicians to stand with us, then we’ll need to rally a lot more troops to our side.”

For a Multiracial Revolutionary Workers Party!

The April 4 protests were called in conjunction with the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, who was killed in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was supporting a strike by black sanitation workers. The photos of these black workers with picket signs reading “I Am a Man” are a searing statement of the integral link between the struggles for labor rights and black rights. But while much was made at the protests of King’s dedication to labor’s cause, the truth is that King was a spokesman for reliance on the capitalist government, seeing the courts and the Democratic Party as the vehicles for legal reform of the racist status quo.

The myth that black people could achieve equality within the confines of racist American capitalism was ripped apart when the civil rights movement “came North.” Here the forcible segregation of blacks in the ghettos was not a matter of a legal code but was and is rooted in the very foundation of capitalist rule in America. When the black masses in the Northern ghettos entered the struggle—fighting for real equality, for jobs, for decent housing and schools—the role of King and others in the liberal leadership of the civil rights movement was one of fearful containment. Thus, King supported the troops sent in to brutally suppress ghetto upheavals in the 1960s.

With the deindustrialization of large swaths of the U.S., the ghetto poor who once supplied a “reserve army of labor” to be employed when the bosses needed them have been written off as a “surplus population” by the capitalist rulers, their labor and very lives no longer seen as necessary for the production of profit. But black workers remain a militant backbone of organized labor—from the ILWU to the public workers unions—and are critical to linking the power of the working class to the simmering anger of the ghettos. If the unions are to fight for their very existence, they must take up the defense of the ghetto and barrio poor by fighting for jobs, quality housing, education, health care and more, and must as well defend the rights of immigrants, an increasingly important component of the working class. Organizing the unorganized is a life-and-death question for labor everywhere. Crucially it means a fight to break the open shop South, directly posing the need for labor to combat anti-black racism and anti-immigrant bigotry.

Many workers no longer buy the lie peddled by the trade-union bureaucracy and its “socialist” water boys that the election of Barack Obama would bring “change” they could “believe in.” The massive protests in Wisconsin inspired many to believe that finally there might be some fightback against the war on their unions, their families and their livelihoods. The leaden hands of the labor bureaucracy are trying to drown any such impulse. It doesn’t have to be this way. There is a real explosive potential here. But to transform that potential into some successful class struggle poses the question of leadership. The labor misleaders must be ousted and replaced with workers’ leaders who will link the fight to defend the unions to building a multiracial revolutionary workers party. This is the necessary instrument to lead the struggle to free the working class and the oppressed from the chains of exploitation, poverty and imperialist war.

Friday, May 06, 2011

From The Pages Of “Workers Vanguard”- “On The Libyan Opposition- An Exchange”-Defend Libya Against Imperialist Attack!

Markin comment:
Some days it’s hard being a communist. Or, for that matter, a garden variety socialist, wild-eyed radical, weepy-eyed left liberal or a just flat-out plain vanilla “conscious” anti-imperialist. The only ones who can rejoice on those occasions are the usual line-up of abject pro-imperialist spokesmen, of one hue or another. Hell, let’s call a thing by its right name imperialist lapdogs. And what has drawn my ire, my communist ire, this day. Well, a little exchange on the Letters to the Editor page of Workers Vanguard between that paper and one Daniel Lazare, a writer of some sort for the left-liberal Nation magazine, over the question of support to the “rebel” side in the Libyan civil war prior to March 19, 2011, a war that has now expanded into a full-blown American-led imperialist intervention, complete with bombs advisers, drones, and, and… collateral damage. The now familiar face, too familiar face, of geared-up imperialist war.

What got Mr. Lazare’s goat was an article in the March 18th issue of Workers Vanguard (Number 976) entitled “Imperialists Hands Off Libya” noting at that time that the proper course for communists, socialists of whatever variety, radicals whatever the condition of their eyes, ditto left-liberals, and anti-imperialist of whatever flavor that the developing civil war in Libya between long-time mad man leader of the country, Qaddafi ( I will use that spelling, the spelling of the exchange, although, truth to tell I have seen at least seven variations of the spelling of his name in the prints) and the “rebel” opposition of former henchmen (who backed even rotten thing the boss did until things got too hot, monarchists and assorted other political, tribal and religious factions was “revolutionary defeatist" on both sides.

Now this policy of revolutionary defeatism has a long, if abused, history in the international workers movement. Its most famous expression was the policy of the Russian Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, with the outbreak of World War I in 1914 among the imperialist powers in Europe where he declared, under traditional Marxist principles, that the international working class, and its then fighting various national components, has no interest in the victory of one imperialist power over another. Not as an abstract proposition but as a fighting propaganda slogan in order to advance the interests of the class struggle, the struggle for socialism. Those too were hard days for communists as the traditional leaders of the Socialist (Second) International capitulated to their own bourgeoisies against the interest of their own working class’ struggles.

And that was really the point then, and the point in Libya now. How does the support of any social struggle by reds, or progressives for that matter, help or hinder the advance toward socialism. For socialist purposes as well as just plain political "smarts" about the composition of the "rebel" forces which were, and are, murky to say the least that policy was correct at the time. That position changed, as noted by the International Communist League (see “Defend Libya Against Imperialist Attack”, WV Number 977, dated April 1, 2011) in a statement issued the day after the American-led NATO forces started dropping the bombs on Tripoli. At that point communists, socialists, radicals, left-liberals, and especially those vaunted anti-imperialists, who have this little habit of getting a little wobbly when the bombs start dropping and the patriotic furor in their own countries gets heated up, should have been crying to high heaven against these imperialist atrocities against Libya. And calling for the military defense of semi-colonial Libya. While holding one's nose, if necessary, but doing so while giving no political support to mad am Qaddafi.

The staff at the Nation, or at least Mr. Lazare, rather than planning another conference ocean cruise to nowhere on the plight of contemporary liberalism as endlessly advertised in the New York Review of Books, should have been busy getting out the paint and poster paper to put forth slogans to oppose those imperialist actions. Instead he leaves, as liberals, even left-liberals are inclined to do, the question up in the air. Even when his beloved “rebels” acted as ground troops for the imperialist advance. Cheer- leading ground troops to be more exact. Obviously this is not a question that disturbs the sleep of imperialist apologists like the Nation’s Mr. Lazare since they, and their ilk, have no interest in advancing the socialist agenda. Yes, these are hard days for communists but at least we know when, and with whom, to stand up for against the “monster” here in the “belly of the beast.”

Note: The Nation magazine has a long, if checkered history, as a voice, if not the voice of left-liberalism in the United States. I note that the Nation did yeoman’s, no beyond yeoman’s service, in defense of Northern side in the American Civil War. But I also note that they were more than willing to act as fellow-travelers, fair-weather fellow-travelers to be sure, in the 1930s when Joseph Stalin put the old Bolsheviks (and many, many others) up against the wall in the Moscow Trials. So that publication is not immune to the siren call of misinformation and disinformation, willful or otherwise.
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Workers Vanguard No. 979
29 April 2011

On the Libyan Opposition

(Letter)

21 March

To the editor:

Apropos of the Libyan civil war, you declare in the latest issue of Workers Vanguard that “Marxists presently have no side in this conflict.” This is absurd. The civil war began with a mass civil uprising that the Qaddafi regime brutally crushed in Tripoli and then moved to extirpate in other cities as well. Are you neutral when unarmed protesters are shot down in the streets? Do you take no side when the most elementary democratic rights are violated? In your statement on the US, UK, and French intervention, you refer to the Benghazi opposition as a “cabal of pro-imperialist ‘democrats,’ CIA stooges, monarchists, and Islamists.” What about the thousands of ordinary workers fighting for their lives against the nationalist regime? Are they less worthy of support than the Egyptian, Yemeni, or Bahraini masses? This is a travesty of Marxism. You people have really lost your way.

Daniel Lazare

WV replies:
What began as an uprising against the bonapartist bourgeois regime of Muammar el-Qaddafi quickly turned into a civil war between the Tripoli-centered government and an imperialist-backed opposition in the eastern areas, heavily overlaid by tribal and regional divisions. For Marxists, the question of extending military support in civil wars and other conflicts is determined by whether the victory of one side or the other would further the cause of the working class and the oppressed. As we explained at the time in “Imperialists Hands Off Libya!” (WV No. 976, 18 March), from this class standpoint neither the Qaddafi regime nor the Benghazi-based opposition—a motley crew of former officials of the Qaddafi regime, monarchists, Islamists and tribal leaders who early on appealed for imperialist intervention—merited support. But, as the article noted, the world proletariat would have a side in opposing any intervention into Libya by the imperialists.

Indeed, immediately after NATO forces began their attack on Libya, the International Communist League declared in a March 20 statement: “The civil war in Libya has now been subordinated to the fight of a neocolonial country against imperialism” (“Defend Libya Against Imperialist Attack,” WV No. 977, 1 April). In this war, it is the duty of Marxists to stand for the military defense of Libya against imperialism and the opposition forces that are acting as the imperialists’ ground troops, while not giving Qaddafi an ounce of political support. Daniel Lazare, who writes for the Nation and other publications, does not say where he stands on the imperialist war against Libya.

The ICL statement continued: “Every step taken by the workers of the imperialist countries to halt the depredations and military adventures of their rulers is a step toward their own liberation from capitalist exploitation, impoverishment and oppression.” We also note that militant opposition to imperialist intervention is a prerequisite for the working class in Egypt, Tunisia and throughout North Africa and the Near East to emerge as a revolutionary force under its own class banner.
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In the interest of completeness I have placed both articles from Workers Vanguard mentioned in my comment above here for the readers inspection.

Workers Vanguard No. 976
18 March 2011

Imperialists Hands Off Libya!


MARCH 15—The opposition in Libya to the decades-long rule of bourgeois strongman Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi appears to have taken the form, for now, of a low-intensity civil war, heavily overlaid by tribal and regional divisions, between the Tripoli-centered government and imperialist-backed opposition forces concentrated in the country’s eastern areas. Leadership of the anti-Qaddafi opposition includes Islamists, tribal leaders, former generals of Qaddafi’s army and former officials of his blood-soaked regime. Much of Libya’s diplomatic corps has defected to the opposition. Marxists presently have no side in this conflict, which is essentially a struggle to decide who will control the country’s immense oil and gas wealth while lording it over the exploited and oppressed masses.

The world proletariat does have a side, however, in opposing any intervention into Libya by the imperialists, who are backing the anti-Qaddafi forces. In the U.S., those beating the drums for imposing a “no-fly zone” over Libya span the gamut from Republican John McCain to Democrats Bill Clinton and John Kerry. If implemented, that would mean a direct military assault against Libya’s air force and air defenses. Washington has positioned a pair of amphibious assault vessels off the Libyan coast, reportedly to be joined by the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, while the United Nations Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Libya and tens of billions in Libyan assets held in foreign banks have been frozen. As Marxist opponents of the capitalist-imperialist order, we oppose all imperialist sanctions against the Qaddafi regime. In the event of imperialist attack against neocolonial Libya, the proletariat internationally must stand for the military defense of that country while giving no political support to Qaddafi’s capitalist regime.

Particularly given the turmoil in North Africa and the Near East, the imperialists are somewhat between a rock and a hard place when dealing with Libya under Qaddafi, whose forces have been turning back the rebels. While insisting that “all options are on the table,” the Obama administration has shied away from being drawn into a possible quagmire in Libya when U.S. imperialism’s military forces are already stretched thin by their murderous occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy has officially declared the opposition National Council, based in the eastern city of Benghazi, to be Libya’s “legitimate” government. The Arab League joined the Near East’s erstwhile colonial masters, Great Britain and France, in calling for imposing a “no-fly zone” over Libya. Britain’s cause was not exactly helped by Tory prime minister David Cameron’s Monty Python moment, when a Special Air Service mission to contact the Libyan opposition ended in debacle, with the rebels detaining the delegation and promptly dispatching it from the country. At a meeting of the G8 in Paris today, German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle put cold water on talk of a “no-fly zone,” declaring that Germany did not want to “get sucked into a war in north Africa” (London Guardian, 15 March).

Just as the New York Times retailed the Bush administrations’ lies of Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction” in the lead-up to the 2003 U.S. invasion, the bourgeois media quickly took on the role of press agents for the anti-Qaddafi opposition, making “facts” fit the imperialists’ agenda. Gruesome stories put out by the opposition about Qaddafi’s fighter jets deliberately bombing civilians were widely reported as fact. Virtually unreported was the March 2 admission by Defense Secretary Robert Gates that “we’ve seen no confirmation whatsoever” of those accounts. Meanwhile, the media has delicately refrained from going into the sordid pasts of the former Qaddafi loyalists in the leadership of the opposition forces in Benghazi. That rogue’s gallery includes Qaddafi’s former “justice” minister, as well as his former interior minister and head of the special forces. Of four former generals who have gone over to the opposition, two had been at Qaddafi’s side since he took power 42 years ago!

There is no doubt that Qaddafi is a butcher of his “own” citizens. This is also the case with the many kings, sheiks and colonels who have benefited from U.S. military aid. After America’s puppet regime in Iraq killed at least 29 people demonstrating for jobs and services on February 25, a U.S. military spokesman lauded the Iraqi forces’ “response” to the protest as “professional and restrained.” The military intervention by U.S.-backed Saudi Arabia in support of the Sunni monarchy in Bahrain demonstrates that, in the eyes of the U.S. imperialists, Bahrain’s Shi’ite majority is less than human, with no rights they are bound to respect. In recent years, the Libyan government has actively collaborated in the imperialists’ “war on terror” and introduced neoliberal privatization schemes. The imperialists are now shedding crocodile tears about the death toll in Libya only because they have not always enjoyed such civil relations with Qaddafi’s regime.

Not least of the crimes of the Qaddafi regime has been its racist treatment of black African migrant workers, who are subjected to arbitrary arrest and deportation—and at times outright pogromist attacks—while being used as scapegoats for unemployment and other ills. Currently, workers from sub-Saharan Africa are being set upon by both pro- and anti-Qaddafi forces, the latter of which often accuse them of being mercenaries for the regime. Over 100 black African migrants are feared dead and thousands are in hiding or seeking to flee the country.

As revolutionary Marxists, we have always staunchly opposed Qaddafi’s brutal rule while standing for military defense of Libya against imperialist attack. In March 1986, the international Spartacist tendency (precursor to the International Communist League) sent a journalistic team to Tripoli as U.S. warships and planes were attacking Libyan forces in and around the Gulf of Sidra. Our purpose, as we wrote in a telegram to the Libyan government, was to express our support for the “just cause of Libyan independence and territorial integrity.” Within days of our delegation’s visit, President Ronald Reagan launched bombing raids on Tripoli and Benghazi, killing scores of civilians. One of the victims was Qaddafi’s infant daughter, who was killed when his compound was targeted. For the Cold Warriors of the Reagan administration, a primary “crime” of the Qaddafi regime was that it was a military client of the Soviet Union.

Our team reported from Tripoli: “The memory of bloody imperialist rampage and spoliation is burned into the Libyan masses” (see “Under Reagan’s Guns in Libya: Report from Tripoli,” WV No. 401, 11 April 1986). Our reporters made the point that the Turko-Italian war of 1911, in which thousands of Arabs were butchered, was a barbaric conflict over the possession of what would become Libya. For the first time in a war, airplanes were used against a population whose most advanced form of military transport was camels. It was, as Lenin called it, “a perfected, civilised bloodbath, the massacre of Arabs with the help of the ‘latest’ weapons” (“The End of the Italo-Turkish War,” 28 September 1912). That conflict set off a 20-year resistance struggle, centered in the east, against the Italian imperialists. Italian forces dropped poison gas bombs on civilians and imprisoned more than 100,000 in concentration camps, where up to 70,000 people—nearly half the population of Cyrenaica
—died of disease and starvation.

During World War II, both Axis and Allied troops ravaged the country and its people. Following the war, the imperialists created an independent Libya by joining together three distinct regions: Cyrenaica in the east, Tripolitania in the west and Fezzan in the south. Italian rule was replaced with a British-imposed monarchy. It is the flag of that pre-Qaddafi regime that is prominently displayed today by opposition forces.

Those imperialist-backed forces have the willing and avid support of the reformist International Socialist Organization (ISO), which at the outset of the conflict embraced the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, an outfit founded in the early 1980s with start-up capital supplied by the CIA and the Saudi royal family. Presenting Qaddafi as someone with whom the imperialists feel “they can do business,” the ISO ludicrously lauded the National Front as “less likely to be so pliable” (Socialist Worker, 24 February). Day after day, representatives of opposition forces parleyed with U.S. and European officials and issued pleas for the imperialists to impose a “no-fly zone,” launch air strikes, arm the rebels or otherwise intervene militarily in Libya. Utterly exposed, the ISO tried to backtrack, declaring in Socialist Worker (9 March): “The CIA-backed National Front for the Salvation of Libya is an unsurprising advocate of U.S. action.”

Equally unsurprising is the fact that the ISO lined up with the imperialists against Qaddafi’s bourgeois regime. From supporting the CIA-backed, woman-hating, anti-Soviet mujahedin forces in Afghanistan and cheering the destruction of the USSR to lending its voice to the imperialist chorus against the deformed workers states of China and North Korea, the ISO, born of social-democratic anti-Communism, has always been squarely in the camp of “democratic” imperialism.

Writing in Socialist Worker (28 February), Todd Chretien derides the Workers World Party (WWP) and Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) for refusing “to take a stand with the Libyan people against a dictator.” While opposing imperialist intervention in Libya, the WWP and PSL are mainly driven by their longstanding political support for any and all forces in Third World countries that make a pretense of being “anti-imperialist.” This has included everyone from bourgeois-nationalist rulers like Qaddafi and Venezuela’s Hugo Ch├ívez—who along with Cuba’s Fidel Castro is supporting Qaddafi in the current conflict—to reactionary Islamists like Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran and Hamas in Gaza.

Workers World (12 March) goes so far as to praise “Libya’s record on human rights,” citing a section of a January 4 UN report that summarized the testimony of the Libyan delegation! The PSL, for its part, is disappointed in how yesterday’s “anti-imperialist” Qaddafi has turned out. Liberation (24 February) refuses to characterize his bonapartist regime as capitalist, complaining only that the government “included bourgeois forces” that were strengthened “over time.”

Lastly, mention should be made of David North’s Socialist Equality Party (SEP), best known as the “World Socialist Web Site,” whose propaganda today appears rather critical of Qaddafi and states opposition to imperialist military intervention. We urge any readers who take the SEP’s “Marxism” for good coin to take a closer look at these political bandits, who comprise a special category in the annals of renegades from Trotskyism.

The SEP self-servingly disappears its history as participants in the squalid pro-Qaddafi machinations carried out by the dominant party in its “International Committee of the Fourth International” (IC), the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP) in Britain led by one Gerry Healy. After years of hailing the mythical “Arab Revolution,” Healy’s IC openly championed blood-drenched bourgeois regimes like Qaddafi’s. Healy’s embrace of Qaddafi coincided with the reappearance of a Healyite daily paper, News Line, in England in May 1976, two months after his previous daily, Workers Press, had folded. In “Healyites, Messengers of Qaddafi” (WV No. 158, 20 May 1977), we noted of Qaddafi’s Libya, “where communists are to be jailed and butchered and their books burned, ostensible leftists would have to do some pretty peculiar things to survive—and News Line has made it clear the WRP would be more than willing to do them.” The Healyites went on to hail the murder of Iraqi Communist Party members by Saddam Hussein in 1979.

As we wrote in “Healyism Implodes” (Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 36-37, Winter 1985-86): “It has been perfectly clear for some time that the Healy/Banda organization has been a captive creature of despotic ‘Third World’ capitalist regimes which have the blood of the workers and peasants on their hands.” This was a logical application of the WRP’s adulation for “anti-imperialist” Arab rulers combined with its vicious anti-Sovietism. The Spartacist article noted: “Once you discard the struggle for the building of Leninist parties to lead the working class in the liberation of mankind, and take off in search of get-rich-quick schemes, you will end up in a despicable place—if not a Healy, perhaps the more ordinary kind of scoundrel voting war credits for his own ruling class.”

For our part, we struggle for the political independence of the proletariat from all bourgeois forces. A fundamental difference between the events in Libya and the popular upsurges in Tunisia and Egypt is that in the latter two countries there is a powerful, concentrated working class that has emerged as an active force. However, the workers organizations are subordinated to one or another bourgeois political force. Marxists must fight for the proletariat, the only class with the social power to overthrow the bourgeoisie, to come to the fore to lead all the oppressed in a revolutionary assault on the capitalist system.

The Libyan proletariat has clearly been devastated in the current conflict, as migrant workers—a major component of the working class in that country—have fled the chaos, armed violence and racist attacks en masse. The future of the Libyan masses will be decided by working-class struggle that extends beyond the national terrain to include the proletariats of Algeria, Tunisia and, especially, Egypt. That requires the forging of revolutionary working-class parties as part of a genuine Trotskyist Fourth International, which would link the fight for socialist federations of North Africa and of the Near East to the struggle for proletarian revolution in the imperialist centers.
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Statement of the International Executive Committee of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist)

Defend Libya Against Imperialist Attack!

The International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist) calls on workers around the world to take a stand for military defense of semicolonial Libya against the attack begun yesterday by a coalition of rapacious imperialist governments. The French, British and U.S. rulers, in league with other imperialist governments and with the blessings of the sheiks, kings and military bonapartists of the Arab League, wasted not a moment in acting on the green light given by the United Nations Security Council on Thursday to slaughter countless innocent people in the name of “protecting civilians” and ensuring “democracy.” French air strikes were quickly followed by U.S. and British missile attacks, while Egypt’s military regime is providing arms to the Benghazi opposition forces. From Indochina and the Korean peninsula to the U.S.-led occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan today, the “democratic” imperialist rulers wade in the blood of millions upon millions of their victims. Recall that Britain and France historically carried out untold massacres in the Near East, Africa and the Indian subcontinent in order to pursue their colonial subjugation of those areas. Recall that Italy, now providing the use of its air bases for the attack, is responsible for the deaths of up to half the population of Cyrenaica in eastern Libya during its colonial rule prior to World War II.

Prior to the current attack, the conflict in Libya had taken the form of a low-intensity civil war, heavily overlaid by tribal and regional divisions, between the Tripoli-centered government of strongman Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi and imperialist-backed opposition forces concentrated in the country’s eastern areas. Workers Vanguard No. 976 (18 March), newspaper of the U.S. section of the ICL, noted that “Marxists presently have no side in this conflict.” But as the article continued: “In the event of imperialist attack against neocolonial Libya, the proletariat internationally must stand for the military defense of that country while giving no political support to Qaddafi’s capitalist regime.” The civil war in Libya has now been subordinated to the fight of a neocolonial country against imperialism. Every step taken by the workers of the imperialist countries to halt the depredations and military adventures of their rulers is a step toward their own liberation from capitalist exploitation, impoverishment and oppression. Defend Libya against imperialist attack! U.S. Fifth Fleet and all imperialist military bases and troops out of North Africa and the Near East!

Recall that the slaughter of well over a million people in Iraq began with the imposition of a UN-sponsored starvation embargo and a “no fly zone” in the 1990s. The latest action by the Security Council, including the neo-apartheid South African regime led by the African National Congress, underscores yet again the character of the United Nations as a den of imperialist thieves and their lackeys and semicolonial victims. The abstention by the representative of China, a bureaucratically deformed workers state, gave tacit approval to imperialist depredation, emboldening the very forces which seek to overturn the 1949 Chinese Revolution.

The crocodile tears shed by the imperialist rulers and their media mouthpieces over the Libyans killed by the Qaddafi regime during the recent wave of protests stands in sharp contrast to their muted response to the continuing massacre of protesters in Yemen—whose dictatorship is a key component of Washington’s “war on terror”—and their ongoing support to the Bahraini kingdom, which hosts the headquarters of the U.S. Fifth Fleet. To aid in crushing mass protests, Bahrain last week invited in troops from the medievalist and theocratic Saudi monarchy, a key bulwark of U.S. imperialist interests in the region. In the eyes of the imperialist rulers, Bahrain’s Shi’ite majority and the Yemeni masses are less than human, with no rights they are bound to respect.

Numerous social-democratic leftists, typified by the United Secretariat (USec) and the British Cliffite Socialist Workers Party, have done their part to prepare the ground for imperialist massacres in Libya by cheering on the so-called “Libyan Revolution.” Having urged support for the cabal of pro-imperialist “democrats,” CIA stooges, monarchists and Islamists that comprise the Benghazi-based opposition, these reformists now feign to balk at imperialist military intervention in support of the opposition. The New Anti-Capitalist Party, constituted in 2009 by the USec’s French section, signed a call for a demonstration yesterday demanding that the Benghazi outfit be recognized as “the only legitimate representative of the Libyan people”—which French ruler Sarkozy had already done! At the same time, those left groups that have promoted illusions in Qaddafi’s “anti-imperialist” pretensions—such as the Workers World Party in the U.S.—seek everywhere and at all times to chain the working class to a mythical “progressive” wing of the bourgeoisie.

We pledge today, as we did at the time of the U.S. Reagan administration’s bombing of Libya in 1986, to “undertake every effort to propagandize the need for the world working class to take the side of Libya” against its imperialist enemies (“Under Reagan’s Guns in Libya,” WV No. 401, 11 April 1986). In the pursuit of profit and domination, the same capitalist ruling classes that brutally exploit the working class “at home,” only to throw workers on the scrap heap during periods of economic crisis, as today, carry out murderous imperialist attacks abroad. The struggle against imperialist war cannot be conducted separately and apart from the class struggle. Only socialist revolution can overthrow the system of capitalist imperialism which breeds war. Our path is that of the October Revolution of 1917, led by the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky, which was a beacon of revolutionary internationalism for the proletariat everywhere. We struggle to reforge the Fourth International as an instrument that can lead the working masses, from the Near East to the imperialist centers, forward to new October Revolutions and a world socialist society.

—20 March 2011

Thursday, May 05, 2011

From The "Renegade Eye" Blog-Religion and Secularism

Religion and Secularism
Written by John Pickard
Wednesday, 27 April 2011

As the twenty-first century progresses, there has been an increasing interest and not a small amount of debate on the role of religion in society and particularly on advances in secularisation. Richard Dawkins’ book , ‘The God Delusion,’ was a best-seller in the UK and novels like ‘The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ’ by Richard Pullman have touched raw nerves in Church hierarchies.

Against what they see as a growing tide of secularism, spokespersons for the Church have denounced the ‘intolerance’ of atheism and have fought a vigorous rearguard action to defend the special position of faith, woven as it is into the fabric of everyday life.


In his 2010 visit to the UK, the Pope typically denounced the fact that faith was being driven into the private domain. Like others, he has argued that faith is more than a ‘private’ matter, that it must be manifestsly in the public arena, where it would necessarily feature as part of civil society. Alongside it and as part of the debate, there has been an ongoing argument about science. Some US evangelists, who support leading political candidates of the so-called Tea Party, have even questioned the value of science itself as if it were some kind of nefarious left-wing creed.

More particularly, it has been the role of science in education that has been challenged, and especially evolution. Pressure has been exerted, with some success, to ensure that Creationism is taught in the school science curriculum, in the guise of ‘Intelligent Design.’ In the United States especially, the extreme neo-conservative right allies itself openly and unashamedly to what they see as Christian principles and it draws its inspiration from the Bible as the unerring “Word of God.”

Debate
On the other side of the debate, the problem with many atheists and secularists is that their arguments are presented as if the whole question of religion is purely an ideological struggle, an intellectual debate in which the followers of religion are charged with harbouring inferior and inconsistent ideas. That indeed may be the case but it is important to see the modern phenomenon of mass support for various religions, as well as their historic foundations as being rooted in the material conditions of society. Religions have not arisen because of ideas that were superior at the time, and which are required to be supplanted at a later stage by even more superior ideas. The origin of all mass religions is rooted in specific sets of social and economic conditions, each at a given moment in history.

These material conditions were expressed ideologically – in politics and, above all, in religion – as a consequence, not as a cause. The inception of a religion owes more to the national and class conflicts of the day than to a clash in the realm of pure ideas. It is as a result of the material and intellectual cul-de-sac in which modern capitalism finds itself that so many millions of people are so ‘spiritually’ alienated from society that they look for inspiration elsewhere, including metaphysics. Likewise, it will be from these economic and material contradictions and the class conflicts they engender that a new social order can be created. It is within that perspective that the ground can be prepared for religious ideas to wither away.

Secularism
In ‘The German Ideology’ Karl Marx was critical of the ‘materialist’ Feuerbach, who did not carry his ‘materialism’ over into the realm of politics and economics. “As far as Feuerbach is a materialist,” Marx wrote, “he does not deal with history, and as far as he considers history he is not a materialist.”

Similar criticisms could be made today of many of the most celebrated advocates of secularism and atheism. Richard Dawkins has produced a withering criticism of religious faith in ‘The God Delusion’ and he has made a valuable contribution to the argument in favour of the secularisation of civil life.

The same is true of Daniel Dennett, the American philosopher, who, like Dawkins in the UK, has been a strident defender of atheism and what he calls a “naturalist” (i.e. materialist) world outlook. But neither of these celebrated authors carries his materialism into the realm of politics and economics.

The same can be said of secular organisations like the British Humanist Association. The BHA plays a very valuable role in education and in the promotion of secular cultural ceremonies like marriages and funerals. BHA publications add great weight to the argument for secularism. But whenever the BHA accidentally strays into the realm of politics they too are trapped in an idealistic framework. Most humanists, according to Jim Merrick in ‘Humanism an Introduction,’ “support a mixed economy…” He argues for a social system based on “fairness” and “justice”. No doubt the overwhelming majority of humanists sincerely support these aims and they are predominantly broad-minded, tolerant, left-leaning and radical, rather than conservative. But supporting the principles of “fairness” and “justice” and placing them in their material reality are two different matters.

Ideas
As an example of the political swamp into which some secularists have sunk, we need look no further than ‘The End of Faith’ by Sam Harris, a book unfortunately endorsed by Richard Dawkins. In this 300-page think-piece, the author condemns the attack on the World Trade Centre on 9/11 and suicide attacks by Islamic militants but insistently places these actions in the realm of ideas and divorces them from the social and political milieu from which such terrorist attacks are ultimately derived.

Harris takes issue with the American author Noam Chomsky who cites the 1998 US bombing of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan and the later invasion of Iraq – both of which have led to tens of thousands of innocent deaths – as a form of state “terrorism”. According to Harris, there is no “moral equivalence”, between the actions of Al Qaeda and the US military, because, he argues, none of the deaths caused by America were intended.

“Did the Clinton administration intend to bring about the deaths of thousands of Sudanese children? No. Was our goal to kill as many Sudanese as we could? No. Were we trying to kill anyone at all? Not unless we thought members of Al Qaeda would be at the Al-Shifa facility in the middle of the night. Asking these questions about Osama bin Laden and the nineteen (9/11) hijackers puts us in a different moral universe entirely.” (p 141)

On the contrary, it is this author who inhabits a moral “parallel universe”. To paraphrase Marx, as far as Harris is a materialist, he should not dabble with politics, because as far as he does stumble into politics he is certainly not a materialist. It doesn’t matter one iota what the formal rules of engagement are or what the declared moral intentions of US forces happen to be. The material fact is that the overwhelming US military firepower, combined with a quasi-racist contempt for the worth of non-American lives leads inevitably to massive ‘collateral’ loss of life. The United States follows an economic, diplomatic and military policy that is wholly in the material interests of US corporations. This policy works directly against the interests of the mass of Muslims in the Middle East. To deny that this has any connection to the resurgence of political Islam, including 9/11, is to fly in the face of reality; it is idealism of the worst kind.

It is well known that Karl Marx wrote that religion is “the opium of the people”, but less well known are his words immediately preceding, that religion “is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions”. (Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right).

Lenin too, writing in 1909, said that:

“The deepest root of religion today is the socially downtrodden condition of the working masses and their apparent complete helplessness in the face of the blind forces of capitalism, which every day and every hour inflicts upon ordinary working people the most horrible suffering and the most savage torment, a thousand times more severe than those inflicted by extraordinary events such as wars, earthquakes, etc.” (The Attitude of the Workers Party to Religion).

Connections
Even some of the spokespersons and representatives of the US administration can see a connection between mass support for militant Islam and the political, economic and social realities experienced by Muslims around the world. Sam Harris may not like it, but it is perfectly possible to condemn the attacks of 9/11 and at the same time understand the relevant social and economic connections.

The capitalist system (what the BHA pamphlet calls the ‘mixed economy’) rests upon the exploitation of workers (and the super-exploitation of workers in the less developed world), not to mention the spoliation of the whole planet in the pursuit of material gain. Historically, and in every part of the world, each single step along the road towards democratic freedom – voting, trade union rights, the right of assembly, publishing, etc – has had to be fought for against the most bitter and uncompromising opposition of the capitalist class and their political representatives (including the Church). Asking a rapacious capitalist class to support “fairness and justice” and not to behave like rapacious capitalists is, to coin a very unsecular phrase, like asking the devil to renounce sin.

Justice and Fairness are good ideas but they have not been established anywhere in the world without the real struggle of the working class. It is still in the material interests of the working class to achieve and maintain these rights, just as it is in the material interests of the capitalist class to oppose and erode them. They are not issues that can be decided by a civilized and friendly debate with one’s opponents.

Marxists support the right of all religious people to practice their religion in full. Indeed many of the best class fighters will first come into the movement still carrying the religious trappings of their traditional culture. But Marxists also support the idea of the complete separation of religions from the state and from civil society. Education, government, the courts and all aspects of public service and provision should have no connection at all with religious practice. It may be perfectly correct, as part of an education system based on tolerance and mutual respect, that school students understand the basic outlines and beliefs of world religions. But on the other hand it is absolutely unacceptable for faith to be taught within the realms of science. It is a scandalous legacy of medievalism that there should be 26 bishops sitting in the House of Lords and affecting the passage of legislation that ought to be the preserve of only elected representatives.

Materialism
Returning to the issue of religion versus secularism, it is not possible to understand the development of organised religion by a discussion on ‘ideas’ alone, but only by an examination of the material roots of religion. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were consistent materialists, in that they applied their materialist world outlook to history and politics in what became known as Historical Materialism. “Marx and I”, Engels wrote, “were pretty well the only people to rescue conscious dialectics from German idealist philosophy and apply it in the materialist conception of nature and history.”

“The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that the production and, next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social structure; that in every society that has appeared in history, the manner in which wealth is distributed and society divided into classes or estates is dependent upon what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged.

“From this point of view the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men's brains, not in man's better insight into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange. They are to be sought, not in the philosophy, but in the economics of each particular epoch...” (Anti-Duhring)

The task of Marxists is to ensure that workers and youth are not diverted by religion and dreams of the here-after but focus instead on the real task before them - the class struggle to overthrow capitalism and with it all the material causes of poverty, war and oppression here on earth. This is the only reality

All Out In Support- NURSES AT TUFTS (Boston) SET TO STRIKE - MAY 6! -An Injury To One Is An Injury To All

NURSES AT TUFTS SET TO STRIKE - MAY 6!
by peacelabor
(No verified email address) 29 Apr 2011

MNA Set to Strike at Tufts Medical Center on May 6th at 6 am;
Rally at 4 pm

The members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association have voted for a one-day strike at Tufts Medical Center in Boston should a collective bargaining agreement not be reached by Friday May 6th. The nurses rallying cry is ‘Patient Safety’ as hospital management has dug their heels in on the desperately needed improvements in staffing levels that the MNA is seeking to address at the bargaining table.

In response to the MNA’s strike authorization Tufts Hospital has contracted with firms to provide replacement nurses and is threatening to lock the nurses out to prevent them from returning to work after the one-day strike.

Should the Tufts nurses strike it will begin at 6AM on Friday and conclude at 6:45 AM on Saturday May 7th. The nurses will be holding a rally outside Tufts Medical Center, at 4 pm on Friday, May 6th at 800 Washington St. in Boston. Your continued support for and solidarity with the Tufts nurses would be greatly appreciated at this event

For more information contact Jenn at jennifer (at) massjwj.net
See also:

http://www.massjwj.net

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Latest From The Private Bradley Manning Defense Committee-Protest US war crimes and torture. Free Bradley Manning! New York City, May 3, 2011

Click on the headline to link to an American Left History blog entry, dated Sunday, March 20, 2011, Why I Will Be Standing In Solidarity With Private Bradley Manning At Quantico, Virginia On Sunday March 20th At 2:00 PM- A Personal Note From An Ex-Soldier Political Prisoner.

Protest US war crimes and torture. Free Bradley Manning!

42 St. and First Ave, across the street from the United Nations in the plaza.

http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=123922347685840

The Latest From The Private Bradley Manning Website-Rally at Leavenworth June 4, 2011 for Bradley Manning! All Out To Defend Private Bradley Manning!

Click on the headline to link to an American Left History blog entry, dated Sunday, March 20, 2011, Why I Will Be Standing In Solidarity With Private Bradley Manning At Quantico, Virginia On Sunday March 20th At 2:00 PM- A Personal Note From An Ex-Soldier Political Prisoner.

Rally at Leavenworth for Bradley Manning!

Rally to protest the indefinite detention and unconstitutional torture of Bradley Manning.

Saturday, June 4
11:30am – 2:30pm
Leavenworth, Kansas
Contact: jim at indomitus dot net
More info forthcoming!

http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=204793382876169

The Latest From The Bradley Manning Defense Committee-Why was PFC Manning moved to Fort Leavenworth?

Click on the headline to link to an American Left History blog entry, dated Sunday, March 20, 2011, Why I Will Be Standing In Solidarity With Private Bradley Manning At Quantico, Virginia On Sunday March 20th At 2:00 PM- A Personal Note From An Ex-Soldier Political Prisoner.

The Latest From The Bradley Manning Defense Committee-Why was PFC Manning moved to Fort Leavenworth?


Why was PFC Manning moved to Fort Leavenworth?


Manning Kansas
April 19, 2011, by David Coombs, attorney for Bradley Manning

Like many others, the defense first learned of PFC Manning’s move to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas by reading that a government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, leaked the information to the Associated Press. The defense was not officially notified of PFC Manning’s pending move until twenty minutes before the Pentagon’s press briefing. This is despite the fact that the Pentagon has “been thinking about this for a while.” Although the news of the move came as a surprise to the defense, the timing did not.

The defense recently received reliable reports of a private meeting held on 13 January 2011, involving high-level Quantico officials where it was ordered that PFC Manning would remain in maximum custody and under prevention of injury watch indefinitely. The order to keep PFC Manning under these unduly harsh conditions was issued by a senior Quantico official who stated he would not risk anything happening “on his watch.” When challenged by a Brig psychiatrist present at the meeting that there was no mental health justification for the decision, the senior Quantico official issuing the order responded, “We will do whatever we want to do.” Based upon these statements and others, the defense was in the process of filing a writ of habeas corpus seeking a court ruling that the Quantico Brig violated PFC Manning’s constitutional right to due process. See United States ex. rel. Accardi v. Shaughnessy, 74 S.Ct. 499 (1954) (violation of due process where result of board proceeding was predetermined); United States v. Anderson, 49 M.J. 575 (N.M. Ct. Crim. App. 1998) (illegal punishment where Marine Corps had an unwritten policy automatically placing certain detainees in MAX custody). The facts surrounding PFC Manning’s pretrial confinement at Quantico make it clear that his detention was not “in compliance with legal and regulatory standards in all respects” as maintained at the Pentagon press briefing.

While the defense hopes that the move to Fort Leavenworth will result in the improvement of PFC Manning’s conditions of confinement, it nonetheless intends to pursue redress at the appropriate time for the flagrant violations of his constitutional rights by the Quantico confinement facility.

The Law Office of David E Coombs
www.armycourtmartialdefense.info

Monday, May 02, 2011

Systematic Injustice Against Sundiata Acoli by Stephen Lendman

Systematic Injustice Against Sundiata Acoli by Stephen Lendman

Email: lendmanstephen (nospam) sbcglobal.net (verified) 26 Apr 2011
repression

Systematic Injustice Against Sundiata Acoli - by Stephen Lendman

In her book titled "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness," Michelle Alexander cites Martin Luther King in 1968 highlighting the need to shift from civil to human rights advocacy, saying initiatives for it just began. In fact, it's truer now than then with Blacks and Hispanics comprising two-thirds of America's prison population, by far the world's largest at around 2.4 million, most incarcerated for nonviolent or political reasons.

Focusing on the war on drugs, Alexander characterizes the New Jim Crow as a modern-day racial caste system designed by elitists who embrace colorblindness. Believing poor Blacks are dangerous and economically superfluous, America's gulag became an instrument of control. According to Alexander:

"Any movement to end mass incarceration must deal with (it) as a racial caste system, not (a method) of crime control. We need an effective system of crime prevention and control in our communities, but that is not what the current system is. (It's) better designed to create crime, and a perpetual class of people labeled criminals, rather than to eliminate crime or reduce the number of criminals."

Overall, America's most vulnerable are victimized by judicial unfairness, get tough on crime policies, a guilty unless proved innocent mentality, three strikes and you're out, racist drug laws, poverty, and advocacy for social justice issues challenging repressive state policies.

As a result, figures like former UN ambassador Andrew Young believes "(t)here are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people (in America incarcerated as) political prisoners." Including undocumented Latino immigrants and other aliens, it's tens of thousands, an April 2011 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report saying Washington annually spends over $1.5 billion imprisoning them.

Currently, around 55,000 are in federal prisons, another 75,000 in state facilities. At a November 2010 Workers World Party conference, International Action Center organizer Gloria Verdieu said:

"Freeing all political prisoners, prisoners of conscience and prisoners of war" tops America's social justice struggle, "because the state uses the criminal justice system to lock up those who sacrifice their livelihood for freedom and justices for the masses."

In fact, international precedent recognizes releasing them. France freed anarchists, Germany Baader-Meinhof figures, and Britain IRA members. Not America, however, in contrast to notorious criminals pardoned, including Iran-Contra conspirators Caspar Weinberger, Elliott Abrams and John Poindexter, as well as others convicted of serious offenses warranting long internments.

Unlike them, today in America, heroic activists are incarcerated unjustly, including Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier, Ramsey Muniz, Oscar Lopez Rivera, the Cuban Five, lawyers Lynne Stewart and Paul Bergrin, and, among many others, Sundiata Acoli (born Clark Edward Squire) for 38 years.

Access his complete profile at:

http://www.sundiataacoli.org/

Born in January 1937, it calls him a New African political prisoner of war, mathematician, and computer analyst with a BA in math from Prairie View A & M College. In summer 1964, he did voter registration work in Mississippi. In 1968, he joined the Harlem Black Panther Party, doing community work relating to schools, housing, jobs, child care, drugs, and police brutality.

In 1969, he and others were arrested in the Panther 21 conspiracy case, jailed for two years without bail, then acquitted and released. Afterward, FBI pressure denied him professional employment, and COINTELPRO harassment and surveillance drove him underground.

Driving on the New Jersey Turnpike in May 1973, he and others were accosted by state troopers. Zayd Shakur was killed, Assata Shakur wounded and captured. One state trooper was killed, another wounded. Acoli was captured days later. In a highly charged, "sensationalized and prejudicial" trial, he was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life plus 30 years.

Initially for five years at Trenton State Prison (TSP), he was confined to a special Management Control Unit (MCU) solely for political reasons, given only 10 minutes daily for showers and two hours weekly for recreation.

The International Jurist (TIJ) "publishes perspectives and opinions on the current state of international law and its future," especially international humanitarian law, human rights law, transitional justice and international criminal law, and comparative law.

After interviewing Acoli in September 1979, TIJ declared him a political prisoner. Days later, he was secretly transferred to solitary confinement at maximum security US Penitentiary, Marion, IL despite no outstanding federal charges. In July 1987, he was sent to Leavenworth, KS federal prison.

Eligible for parole in fall 1992, he was denied permission to attend his own hearing, permitted only to participate by prison phone. Despite his exemplary prison work, academic and disciplinary record, hundreds of supportive letters, and numerous offers as a computer professional, he was denied in a 20 minute proceeding, giving him "a 20-year hit, the longest in New Jersey history," minimally requiring him to serve another 12 years before again becoming eligible for parole.

Reasons given were his Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army membership, as well as hundreds of "Free Sundiata" form letters calling him a "New Afrikan Prisoner of War" and that he hadn't been sufficiently rehabilitated. At issue, however, is forcing him to renounce his social justice advocacy and admit wrongdoing for struggling to liberate his people.

On March 4, 2010, the New Jersey State Parole Board (NJPB) denied him for the third time, again calling him "not rehabilitated" despite over a 1,000 supportive letters and petitions from noted figures, including lawyers, clergy, academics, psychologists, community members, and journalists.

Then in mid-July, with no explanation, he got written notice of a 10-year hit, requiring at least another six years imprisonment before parole eligibility at which time he'll be 79 years old or perhaps dead.

On August 27, 2010, an administrative appeal to the New Jersey Parole Board was filed, his legal advisers saying his case is strong based on NJPB procedural errors.

Throughout his incarceration, he's endured harsh treatment yet maintained an exemplary record, as well as becoming a talented painter and writer on prison industrial complex issues. He's also a father, grandfather, and both brother and mentor to fellow inmates besides making invaluable community contributions before incarceration.

In the 1960s, after years as a skilled computer programmer, he participated in southern civil rights struggles. Moreover, his New York chapter Black Panther Party activities involved him in numerous social justice struggles, including education, slum housing, school breakfasts, healthcare, legal help, and politics. He also worked on anti-drug and police brutality initiatives, an admirable record overall deserving praise, not incarceration for nearly four decades.

A Final Comment

On April 17, 2011, Acoli's latest article headlined, "Sundiata Acoli: Why You Should Support Black Political Prisoners/POWs and How," saying:

"My name is Sundiata Acoli....and am now a Black Political Prisoner and Prisoner or War (PP/POW) who's been (incarcerated) for the last 37 years."

"So why should you care," he asked? "Why should you support Black PP/POWs? Well, maybe you shouldn't. If you're happy with (how America) and the world is going, and if you want (Washington and Western powers) to dominate and oppress the rest of the world, then (don't) support Black PP/POWs (and it agenda to end predatory) capitalism, sexism, (racism), and all unjust oppressions of people and life (on) earth."

That advocacy got Acoli and many others imprisoned for supporting and doing the right thing. Now it's up to mass activism no longer to tolerate it.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen (at) sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

http://www.progressiveradionetwork.com/the-progressive-news-hour/.

From The Partisan Defense Committee- Third Circuit Court of Appeals Orders New Sentencing Hearing-Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Now!

Click on the headline to link to the Partisan Defense Committee website.

28 April 2011

Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Now!

Third Circuit Court of Appeals Orders New Sentencing Hearing


On April 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit turned down the Philadelphia district attorney’s appeal to reinstate the death penalty for political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. The Court ordered the Pennsylvania trial court to convene a new trial solely to determine whether Abu-Jamal should be sentenced to death once again or left to rot in prison for life. The D.A.’s office has announced it will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Third Circuit decision upheld the 2001 decision by U.S. District Court judge William Yohn that overturned the death sentence while upholding the frame-up murder conviction. Yohn found the sentence to be unconstitutional under the precedent of the Mills v. Maryland decision because the sentencing form and jury instructions did not allow jurors to freely consider the mitigating circumstances weighing against a death sentence.

Yohn’s ruling had been upheld by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in March 2008. But in January 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the Third Circuit decision, ordering the Third Circuit to review the case in light of its ruling that reinstated the death sentence for neo-Nazi Frank Spisak, whose sentence had also been overturned due to improper jury instructions.

Mumia Abu-Jamal is an innocent man who should not have spent a day in prison. Free Mumia now! (For more, see “Appeals Court Hearing on Death Sentence for Mumia Abu-Jamal,” Workers Vanguard No. 966, 8 October 2010.)

3rd Circuit Appeal Ruling For Abu-Jamal confronts US Supreme Court

Click on the headline to link to the Partisan Defense Committee website.

3rd Circuit Appeal Ruling For Abu-Jamal confronts US Supreme Court

by freemumia
(No verified email address) 26 Apr 2011

The federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, in a stunning smack at the U.S. Supreme Court, has issued a ruling upholding its earlier decision backing a new sentencing hearing in the controversial case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the convicted killer of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.

Published on This Can't Be Happening (http://thiscantbehappening.net)

3rd Circuit Appeal Ruling Favoring Abu-Jamal Smacks Down US Supreme Court
3rd Circuit Appeal Ruling Favoring Abu-Jamal Smacks Down US Supreme Court

by:
Linn Washington Jr.

The federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, in a stunning smack at the U.S. Supreme Court, has issued a ruling upholding its earlier decision backing a new sentencing hearing in the controversial case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the convicted killer of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.

The latest ruling, issued on Tuesday April 26, 2011, upholds a ruling the Third Circuit issued over two years ago siding with a federal district court judge who, back in 2001, had set aside Abu-Jamal’s death penalty after determining that death penalty instructions provided to the jury, and a flawed jury ballot document used during Abu-Jamal’s 1982 trial, had been unclear.

The U.S. Supreme Court had ordered the Third Circuit to re-examine its 2009 ruling upholding the lifting of Abu-Jamal’s death sentence.

The nation’s top court had cited a new legal precedent in that directive to the Third Circuit, a strange order given the fact that the Supreme Court had earlier consistently declined to apply its own precedents to Abu-Jamal’s case.

The Associated Press was the first to report the Third Circuit’s latest dramatic ruling and in fact, as of the morning of the ruling’s release, the decision had still not been posted on the appeals court’s website.

Abu-Jamal’s current lead attorney, Prof Judith Ritter of the Widener Law School, could not be reached for comment.
Mumia Abu-JamalMumia Abu-Jamal

The Third Circuit’s ruling, if left standing, requires Philadelphia prosecutors to call for a whole new sentencing hearing if they want to try and reinstate the death penalty. That would require the impaneling of a whole new jury, to hear and consider evidence regarding mitigating circumstances and aggravating circumstances in the case, and then to decide for either execution of life-without-possibility of parole--the only two options legally available. Abu-Jamal has exhausted his avenues of appeal of his conviction, absent new evidence in the case.

If prosecutors opted against holding new hearing then Abu-Jamal’s sentence would be converted automatically to a life sentence, which in Pennsylvania means no chance of parole. Abu-Jamal would have to spending the remainder of his life behind bars, though not on death row.

Experts contend a new sentencing hearing would be problematic for prosecutors. Although the issue of guilt or innocence would not be on trial, the defense could bring in witnesses to explain exactly what they saw happen the night of the shooting--witnesses whose testimony could ultimately raise new questions about the validity of the underlying conviction.

It is almost a certainty that prosecutors will appeal the Third Circuit’s latest ruling back up to the Supreme Court. Furthermore, prosecutors concede that current and yet unresolved legal issues in this case, which continues to attract unprecedented international scrutiny, will keep it in courts for years. For example, there are several avenues of appeal of Abu-Jamal's death sentence which were never adjudicated by the Federal District court, which mooted them after the Judge, William Yohn, found in favor of one argument and tossed out the death sentence.

In early April 2011 the NAACP Legal Defense Fund publicly announced it was joining the Abu-Jamal defense team and working with Professor Ritter. NAACP lawyers had joined Ritter last fall during the hearing where she argued the legal point just upheld by the Third Circuit in its latest ruling.

Recently Abu-Jamal recorded yet another birthday (4/24) inside a death row isolation cell. Abu-Jamal and the 222 other Pennsylvania death row inmates spend 23-hours per day every day isolated inside minimalist cells.

Since 1983 Abu-Jamal has languished in the confinement of death row, following his controversial July 1982 conviction for the murder of Officerl Faulkner.

Now 57, Abu-Jamal has spent nearly 29 years of his life in prison for a crime he has consistently denied committing--a crime that ample evidence conclusively proves could not have occurred as police and prosecutors have proclaimed.

Authorities, for example, claim Abu-Jamal fired four shots at the policeman, while straddling the officer as he lay defenseless on a sidewalk, striking him only once with a fatal shot in the face.

However, police crime scene photos and police reports make no reference of any bullet marks in that sidewalk around the fallen officer--marks that should have been clearly visible if Abu-Jamal fired three shots at almost point-blank range into the sidewalk as witnesses and the prosecutor claimed.

As detailed in an thorough investigative ballistic test released in September 2010 by This Can’t Be Happening! (See our film at the bottom of the home page), it is impossible to fire high-velocity bullets into a sidewalk without leaving any marks. TCBH! test-fired each kind of .38-caliber bullets referenced in police reports about the 1981 crime scene into a slab of old city sidewalk, and each of those bullets left easily visible marks…marks totally contradicting claims by authorities that Abu-Jamal wildly fired into the sidewalk without leaving bullet marks.

Rulings by federal and state courts denying Abu-Jamal the legal relief routinely granted other inmates who had raised the same appeals claims are the least-examined element of this internationally-condemned injustice.

The same Philadelphia and Pennsylvania courts that found major flaws by either defense attorneys, police, prosecutors and/or trial judges in 86 Philadelphia death penalty convictions during a 28-year period after Abu-Jamal’s December 1981 arrest declare no errors exist anywhere in the Abu-Jamal case – an assertion critics call statistically improbable.

The federal Third Circuit, for example, declined to grant Abu-Jamal a new trial based on solid legal issues from racial discrimination by prosecutors in jury selection to documented errors by trial judge Albert Sabo, the late jurist who relished his infamous reputation for pro-prosecution bias.

The Third Circuit’s 2008 ruling faulting Sabo for his inability to provide the jury with simple death penalty deliberation instructions included the contradictory conclusion that Sabo had adequately provided the jury with instructions about a highly complicated legal issue involving misconduct by the trial prosecutor.

Faulting Sabo for that flawed instruction on prosecutorial misconduct would have required the Third Circuit to give Abu-Jamal a whole new trial. Unwilling to do that, the court sidestepped its duty to ensure justice, by deciding to just eliminate Abu-Jamal’s death sentence, instead.

Pennsylvania state courts have released three Philadelphians from death row (half of Pa’s death row exonerations to date) citing misconduct by police and prosecutors…misconduct that was less egregious than that documented in the Abu-Jamal case. One of those Philadelphia exonerations involved a man framed by police for a mob-related killing, who was arrested six months before Abu-Jamal.

While many people in Philadelphia may feel Abu-Jamal is guilty as charged, millions around the world question every aspect of this conviction, citing facts that proponents of Abu-Jamal’s conviction deliberately dismiss as irrelevant.

This widespread questioning of Abu-Jamal’s guilt is the reason why pro-Abu-Jamal activities occurred around the world commemorating Abu-Jamal’s 4/24 birthday, including people in San Francisco attending a screening of the “Justice on Trial” movie examining ignored aspects in the case, and people marching for Abu-Jamal’s freedom in the Brixton section of London.

Officials in the French city of Saint-Denis will stage a ceremony rededicating a street they named for Abu-Jamal during the last weekend in April.

The ire erupting over Abu-Jamal’s prominence on the part of advocates of his execution contains contradictions that are as clear as the proverbial black-&-white.

The U.S. Congress engaged in color-coded contradiction approving a May 2006 resolution condemning far off Saint-Denis for its honoring Abu-Jamal by placing his name on a small one block long street.

Over a decade before that anti-Saint-Denis outrage, over 100 members of Congress had battled to block the U.S. government from deporting a white fugitive convicted of killing a British Army officer in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

That officer’s killing had occurred during an investigation into the murder of another Belfast policeman.

Incidentally, the U.S. Congress did not erupt angrily when the City Council of New York City voted to place the name of that fugitive – Joseph Doherty – on the street corner outside the federal detention center then housing him.

In 1988 – six years after Abu-Jamal’s conviction – more than 3,000 Philadelphians signed petitions asking federal authorities to grant Doherty special permission to leave his federal detention cell for one day to allow Doherty to serve as Grand Marshall of Philadelphia’s St Patrick’s Day Parade.

One Philly supporter of suspected convicted cop killer Doherty was the then-President Judge of Philadelphia’s trial courts, Edward J. Bradley.

Judge Bradley told a reporter in 1988 that he had no problems as a jurist reconciling his support for a convicted felon because he questioned the “fair treatment” Irish nationals received in English courts.

Judge Bradley’s concern about fairness for IRA fighters in English courts is not parallelled by any concern about fairness in Philadelphia courts with regard to the case of former Black Panther Party member Abu-Jamal. Judge Bradley's double standard highlights the gross unfairness of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania state court judges.

Critics who castigate those who contribute to Abu-Jamal’s defense fund, especially by Hollywood stars, did not object to fund-raising on behalf of one of the white Los Angeles policemen convicted in federal court for the 1991 beating of Rodney King. That criminal cop was allowed to keep nearly $10-million in sales from his book and from a fund-raising campaign on his behalf – monies generated mainly after that the former police sergeant's imprisonment following a civil rights violation conviction.

One reason the decades-old Abu-Jamal case continues to generate support and rage is Abu-Jamal himself.

A charismatic figure who is articulate, with a level of education and intelligence atypical of the mainly illiterate denizens of death row, Abu-Jamal is able to explain his case, as well as to expose the horrors of the nation's prison system and its death rows.

While on death row Abu-Jamal has written six critically acclaimed books (including one on jailhouse lawyers), produced thousands of commentaries, learned two foreign languages, earned two college degrees, including a masters, and developed a loyal support network comprising millions worldwide.

Even the prosecutor at Abu-Jamal’s 1982 trial – Joseph McGill – described him during that trial as the most “intelligent” defendant he’d ever faced.

And another prosecutor, during Abu-Jamal’s tainted 1995 appeals hearing, said he didn’t think “the shooting of Officer Faulkner is characteristic of this defendant.” (Abu-Jamal had no record of violence or criminal acts before his 1981 arrest.)

Supporters applaud Abu-Jamal’s defense of the downtrodden, particularly his poignant criticisms of America’s prison-industrial complex, that incarcerates more people per capita than any other country on earth.

Abu-Jamal’s stance highlighting the deprivations of the have-nots, predated his arrest, and had earned him the title of “Voice of the Voiceless” during his professional broadcast reporting career, which ran from 1975 till his December 1981 arrest.

Abu-Jamal rarely uses his world-wide platform to speak about his own plight, preferring to focus instead on the injustices endured by others.
Source URL: http://thiscantbehappening.net/node/579