Monday, September 26, 2016

****The Latest From The Partisan Defense Committee-The Cause That Passes Through The Prison Walls-With The Old International Labor Defense in Mind

****The Latest From The Partisan Defense Committee-The Cause That Passes Through The Prison Walls-With The Old International Labor Defense in Mind   


From The Pen Of Frank Jackman


Sam Eaton had to laugh when he heard the news, the news live and in person on cable news by the current Attorney-General of the United States (no names needed since this is the position of every one of those guys, and now gals when primed by curious reporters who if they have done their homework already know the answer) that there are “no political prisoners in the United States prison systems, certainly not the federal systems and as far as is known not in the states either.” And on some level, not on the level of candid truth but some level lower than that, the A-G in question (and all previous A-Gs) is right since every prisoner, every political prisoner is behind bars for some “crime” against society’s norms. Take the case of Chelsea Manning (known until her thirty-five year sentencing to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas for multiple conviction against military and federal law as Bradley Manning thereafter as Chelsea in case there is any confusion about who we are talking about) which was the case the A-G in question was referring to in that newspeak commentary. Private Manning, is the heroic Army soldier who blew the whistle to Wiki-leaks on the atrocities committed by the American military in Iraq and Afghanistan and the duplicity of the Hillary Clinton-run State Department even before Benghazi. The charges against Chelsea  were “crimes,” you know “stealing” government files and “committing” acts of espionage but her motivation had nothing to do with crime, at least crimes that working people and leftists need worry about. Her leaks were a breath of fresh air in counter-point to the “slam-dunk’ mentality that has pervaded both the Bush II and Obama administrations. But Chelsea is nevertheless a political prisoner with a capital “P.”         


Sam had to laugh again about the nefarious and spurious doing of the American justice machine (thoughts on that “machine” bringing to Sam’s mind the words of sardonic comic Lenny Bruce, a man not unfamiliar with that system and in his own way a political prisoner as well about how “in the hall of justice the only justice is in the halls-nicely said, Brother, nicely said) when a few nights after this newscast he was sitting in Jack’s, the long-time radical hang-out bar in Harvard Square which he frequented, talking to Ralph Morris who had come to town on one of his periodic visits from his home in Troy, New York about what he had heard that other night. And this was not mere idle talk between that pair because the whole Easton-Morris friendship had its start when they were political prisoners of a sort back on May Day 1971 when they had met on the floor of RFK Stadium in Washington for the “crime” of disorderly conduct and creating a public nuisance when they and thousands of others tried to shut down the American government if it did not shut down the Vietnam War which they were desperately for their own reasons trying to stop. So, yes, they were “criminals,” maybe just petty criminals by the standards of the charges but no way in hell had they hitchhiked from Cambridge and Albany, New York respectively (and wherever else those thousands came from and how they got there) to “walk in the streets” of D.C. for the hell of it, to litter the boulevards with leaflets let, to thumb their noses at the government, or the like. Sam and Ralph that day had been political prisoners with a small “P” nevertheless. (They would later do some actions in solidarity with the Black Panthers, with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, and with the African National Congress in South Africa which would “win” them their capital “Ps.”)      


All of this old-timey bar talk had a purpose though (they by the way were no strangers to strong drink as part of their political camaraderie from early on in their working-class lives but now they drank high-shelf stuff delivered by Jimmy the bartender rather than that rotgut low-shelf, no-shelf Thunderbird wine and Southern Comfort which got them through their no dough youths). Or rather two purposes. First, Ralph had come to town to join Sam in the annual Sacco and Vanzetti commemoration in honor of the two anarchist political prisoners who had been railroaded by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to their executions on August 23, 1927. Troy and most other places in the nation and the world paid have paid no particular attention to such events but in Boston the scene of the crimes against the two immigrant anarchists there had been a generally on-going commemoration since the 1920s, although not always on in the streets like the past several years. Over their long and hard fought battles around prisoners’ rights which formed a majority of the work they had done over the years, in good times and bad, Sam and Ralph made sure that they attended this commemoration.


The second event that brought Ralph to town was a conference to be held in Boston to see about reviving the old International Labor Defense (ILD), the 1920s Communist International (CI)-initiated political prisoner defense organization which coincidentally had cut its teeth when founded in 1925 on the Sacco and Vanzetti case. Under the circumstances over the past quarter of a century plus for the international working class not so much reviving it exactly as in the old days since the organization had gone out of business in 1946 a few years after Joe Stalin over in Russia had liquidated the Communist International as part of some Soviet foreign policy sop to his allies in World War II (the CI had pretty much gone out of the business of directing international revolution well before than anyway) but reviving the spirit that drove it in its best days around the Sacco and Vanzetti case, the Angelo Herndon case, a bunch of other lesser well known labor cases like that of Tom Mooney and assorted IWWers (Industrial Workers of the World, Wobblies) and most famously the Scottsboro Boys case in the 1930s.


In those days as Sam had mentioned while talking to Ralph at Jack’s since he had been looking up information about the old ILD, what it did and how it was organized (and how much the old American Communist Party/CI controlled the operation in its sunnier days) the ILD had had no problem living up to the idea of a non-sectarian labor defense organization that took on the tough cases, the political cases and tried to garner union and progressive support in America and internationally through the CI to free the class-war prisoners behind the walls. Sam and Ralph had been involved in many cases of political prisoners on the seemingly endlessly dwindling left, especially black liberation fighters and labor organizers but those operations usually concerned a specific political prisoner (like the Manning case) or were run as campaigns by particular organizations which tended to “protect” their turf, protect their unique relationship with their poster child political prisoner.


While both Sam and Ralph had been snake-bitten a few times when somebody called a conference only to find out that the operation was being built to “protect turf” or using the campaign as an organizational recruiting tool (Sam mentioned that someone should tell such organizations and individuals with ideas like that to give pause since the recruitment rate, or better the retention rate of such projects after a while is abysmal) they liked the call for this one which included a bunch of small leftist organizations and some independent labor organizers and unions. Whether absent an international organization with the resources of the old CI a new ILD could catch fire is problematic. There in any case with the downward pressure of social flare-ups likely in the near future certainly is a need for such an organization. Ralph made Sam laugh as they finished their last high-shelf whisky that night by saying –“Hell there aren’t any political prisoners, I have it on the authority of the U.S. A-G.” But just in case those A-Gs were being less than candid they agreed that they would show up bright and early for the meeting the next morning.              

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