Monday, December 24, 2007


Recent news out of England is that former Labor Party Prime Minister and current ad hoc Middle East envoy Tony Blair has converted to Catholicism from the Protestant Anglican state church. That in itself is not remarkable. My own father made the same kind of conversion from Protestantism. As kids we use to call the American equivalent of the Anglicans, the Episcopalians, left-wing Catholics. They just followed Henry the VIII rather than the Pope. The point for now is that until we create a society where the need for religious solace is not a driving force such individual decisions are neither here nor there.

What is relevant, however, is a piece of information in the article I am referring to is that Blair had not previously announced his formal conversion while Prime Minister as there was a question on whether he could continue in that office as a Catholic. I have noted elsewhere (see below earlier commentaries) that various statutes passed mainly in the 18th century excluded Catholics, dissenters and others from political office and other institutions. Part of the fight for a democratic secular republic here in America was on this very question of religious tests for office. Apparently, despite the fact that the British political landscape today, unlike the American scene, frowns on public discussion of religion in political circumstances- remember the famous statement by Blair’s press secretary stating that “We do not do God” not all obstacles to democratic secular discourse have been removed. Thus, a basis democratic fight in the British Isles needs to add a slogan calling for no religious tests for public office. That, along with abolishing of the monarchy, the Anglican state Church and the moribund House of Lords will go a long way toward that condition I mentioned above about not needing religious solace to face this wicked world.

I cannot resist one parting shot at brother Blair now that he has sworn fidelity to Rome. The above-mentioned article noted that Mr. Blair had been taking instruction for a while from the personal secretary of the British Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor. I learned Catholic ‘just war’ theory at my late mother’s knee (and have since moved on from that constricted theory). Apparently, given Mr. Blair’s bizarre and poodle-like devotion to George Bush’s war in Iraq while in office, a clear case of ‘unjust war’, he must have been absent the day the good secretary gave that lesson. All of which let’s me close on this Christmas Eve with the call for Immediate and Unconditional Withdrawal of All Troops, American and British, along with their mercenaries from Iraq.

Below are a common of other relates commentaries on the question of religious tests, of one sort or another.



Every once in a while left wing propagandists, including this writer, are forced to comment on odd ball political or social questions that are not directly related to the fight for socialism. Nevertheless such questions must be addressed in the interest of preserving democratic rights, such as they are. I have often argued that socialists are, or should be, the best defenders of democratic rights, hanging in there long after many bourgeois democrats have thrown in the towel, especially on constitutional questions like abortion and searches and seizures.

A good example from the not too distant past, which I am fond of citing because it seems so counter intuitive, was opposition to the impeachment of one William Jefferson Clinton, at one time President of the United States and now potentially the first First Ladies’ man. How, one might ask could professed socialists defend the rights of the Number One Imperialist –in Chief. Simple, Clinton was not being tried for any real crimes against working people but found himself framed by the right wing cabal for his personal sexual preferences and habits. That he was not very artful in defense of himself is beside the point. We say government out of the bedrooms (or wherever) whether White House or hovel. We do no favor political witch-hunts of the highborn or the low for their personal predilections. Interestingly, no one at the time proposed that Clinton be tried as a war criminal for his very real crimes in trying to bomb Serbia, under the guidance of one Wesley Clark, back to the Stone Age (and nearly succeeding). Enough said.

Now we are confronted with another strange situation in the case of one ex-Governor of Massachusetts and current Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney on the question of his Mormon religious affiliation and his capacity to be president of a secular state. Romney, on Thursday December 6, 2007, fled down to Houston apparently forced to deal with the issue by his vanishing prospects in Iowa, and made a speech about his Mormon faith, or at least his fitness for office. This speech evoked in some quarters, at least formally, Jack Kennedy’s use in the 1960 presidential campaign of the same tool concerning his Roman Catholicism as a way to cut across anti-Catholic bigotry in a mainly Protestant country and to affirm his commitment to a democratic secular state. I pulled up that speech off the Internet and although Kennedy clearly evoked his religious affiliation many times in that speech he left it at that, a personal choice. He did not go on and on about his friendship with Jesus or enumerate the virtues of an increased role for religion in political life.

Romney’s play is another kettle of fish entirely. He WANTS to affirm that his Mormon beliefs rather than being rather esoteric are in line with mainstream Protestant fundamentalist tenets. In short, Jesus is his guide. Christ what hell, yes hell, have we come to when a major political party in a democratic secular state has for all intents and purposes a religious test for its nominee for president. A cursory glance at the history of 18th century England and its exclusion clauses, codified in statutes, for Catholics and dissenters demonstrates why our forbears rejected that notion. It is rather ironic that Romney evoked the name of Samuel Adams as an avatar of religious toleration during some ecumenical meeting in 1774. Hell, yes when you are getting ready to fight for a Republic, arms in hand, and need every gun willing to fight the King you are damn right religion is beside the point. Revolutions are like that. Trying to prove your mettle as a fundamentalist Christian in order to woo the yahoo vote in 2007 is hardly in the same category. Nevertheless on the democratic question- down with religious tests, formal or otherwise, for political office.

Now to get nasty. Isn’t it about time we started running these religious nuts back into their hideouts? I have profound differences with the political, social and economic organization of this country. However, as stated above, I stand for the defense of the democratic secular state against the yahoos when they try, friendly with Jesus or not, to bring religion foursquare into the ‘public square’. We have seen the effects of that for the last thirty or forty years and, hit me on the head if I am dreaming, but isn’t the current occupant of the White House on some kind of first name basis with his God. Enough. Look, this country is a prime example of an Enlightenment experiment, and tattered as it has become it is not a bad base to move on from. Those who, including Brother Romney, want a faith-based state- get back, way back. In the fight against religious obscurantism I will stand with science, frail as it sometimes is, any day. Defend the Enlightenment, and let’s move on.




In the normal course of events news from England’s Buckingham Palace, the seat of the British monarchy, does not directly concern socialist militants except in a propagandistic way. Most of the news lately has concerned the ‘plight’ of poor Prince Harry (or is it Prince William?) and his non-deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan with his tank unit. However another more recent piece of news permits me to make some points about the socialist attitude toward those ‘revered’ English institutions of British royalty, the established Anglican Church and the moribund House of Lords.

I will admit that I have received this news second hand but Queen Elizabeth’s eldest grandson Peter Phillips, son of her daughter Princess Anne, has become engaged to a Canadian woman. Nothing extraordinary there. However in the convoluted process of the British royal succession Peter Phillips stands number ten in line to the throne. That, again, would be neither here nor there except that the woman he proposes to marry, Autumn Kelly, is a strongly self-professed Catholic. And there is the rub. Although Peter's real chances of getting to be the ’once and future king’ are just a shade better than mine apparently if he marries the Catholic woman without some form of renunciation he violates British law. According to the Act of Settlement of 1701 (the one that brought Queen Anne, daughter of the papist James II, to the throne) no British monarch can marry a papist- a Roman Catholic. Thus, either Peter Phillips has to renounce his right to the throne or Autumn has to renounce her religious beliefs. Attempts, including one last year, to rescind that law have failed. And that is where socialists have a duty to comment.

Strange to have to say in the year 2007 but socialists, while hostile to religion on principal, are opposed to religious tests for anyone- including marrying into royalty. A great part of the struggle during the heroic days of the rise of the bourgeoisie and the fight for the Enlightenment centered on this very question of state support of, and interference in, the private realm of religion. But that is not the main point. In England the head of state, in this case the queen, is also the head of the state church. This brings me to the real argument. Despite the so-called aura of tradition and despite its alleged benign symbolic place the real fight here is to abolish the monarchy. When Oliver Cromwell and his friends established the Commonwealth during the English Revolution one of the important acts, if not the most important act, was the abolishing of the monarchy exemplified by the beheading of Charles I. I, however, do not believe that Cromwell spent enough time trying to round up Charles' sons, who later during the counter-revolution became Charles II and James II, in order to eliminate (or at least curtail) the chances of restoration. So here is my proposal. British militants take note. In order for the kids, Citizen Peter Phillips and Citizen Autumn Kelly, to get married life off to the right start-ABOLISH THE BRITISH MONARCHY, ABOLISH THE STATE CHURCH and ABOLISH THE HOUSE OF LORDS. In short, finish the tasks of the old English Revolution of the 1600’s. Those are our tasks, among others, in the British Isles.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

*We Need A Different Strategy To End This Damn War, Part II

Click on the title to link to an "Under The Hood" (Fort Hood G.I. Coffeehouse)Web site online article about the "Oleo Strut" Coffeehouse, an important development in the anti-Vietnam War struggle. Hats off to those bygone anti-war fighters.


I commented on the need to change strategies in the fight against the war in Iraq on this site in September during the lead up to the Petreaus/Crocker reports. That was also a time when it had become clear that the various parliamentary maneuvers linking war appropriation approval to timetabled withdrawals by the Democratic-led Congress had fizzled. This week as Congress winds up its sorry session the same comments seem as appropriate as ever. Sad to say, I need merely update that commentary here as the main points still apply. That said, the song remains the same- U. S. Out of Iraq and Afghanistan Now.



It is very nice to be able to periodically run old George W. Bush through with a rhetoric spear and Thursday night's speech to the nation (referring to the speech Bush made in September in response to the Petreaus/Crocker reports- Markin 12/20) has once again taken us nicely down ‘neo-con’ memory lane with a certain flourish. Some things no matter how one packages them defy changing. I will admit I will miss the ‘old boy’ as a target when he is gone. Not as much as I miss his puppet master, Karl Rove, but I will miss him nevertheless. After almost seven years George Bush, however, is just too ‘soft’ a target and it is no longer ‘clever’ as sign of political sophistication to make hay from that source in order to end this damn war. Christ, my mother, a life long ‘bleeding heart’ conservative Catholic Republican, is taking potshots at him. If one is looking for parliamentary targets as obstacles in the struggle to immediately end this war the Congressional Democrats are more tempting. (Their okaying 70 billion dollars for Iraq this week, the week of December 18th, without a whimper only painfully highlights that impotence). They deserve it because in the end they knew, or should have known, better than to go along with the Bush agenda in Iraq in the early days.

However, after all the parliamentary wrangling and bleeding over the floor of Congress this spring on the war budget it is almost no longer fun to rip the establishment Democrats for their weak-kneed policy either. Even if Senator Reed, in response, last night (the Democratic answer to Bush’s September speech) made the right parliamentary points the sad reality is those policies on not funding the war are not going to happen. Moreover, here is the hard reality. A Democratic Party consensus appears to be forming that in the likelihood of a Democratic presidential victory in 2008 (most likely by a centrist) troop limits will not drop off significantly under that presidency and will remain in Iraq for ….. (Fill in the blank). In capsule form there are three prongs to that strategy 1. Avoid genocide and ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Iraq; 2. Cut off safe havens for Al Queda in the region 3. Counter and contain Iranian influence in the region. That, my friends, is realpolitik, Democratic style. To these eyes that means many troops for many years. End of story. (Lately, in the frenzy of the presidential campaign leading up to next months Iowa caucuses, Iraq as an issue has fallen beneath the newspaper fold).

Well, where the hell does that leave serious anti-war militants? Our slogan is for Immediate Unconditional Withdrawal. That means today (if not yesterday). Does anything said recently by any politician of note even touch on that? They are all backpedaling using the huge logistical problems to, in practice, negate the impact of that slogan. We need another strategy if we are to win this battle against the war. The long and short of it is looking for parliamentary solutions and depending on the ‘good graces’ of anti-war Democrats has had its day. I have been advocating for over a year on my blog site American Left History that we change the axis of our political struggle and form anti-war soldiers and sailors solidarity committees in order to link up with the rank and file troops and lead us to an end of the war. A couple of years ago that would have seemed somewhat far- fetched, and may strike some readers here as far too radical today, however it comes closer to political wisdom for the left than those tired old parliamentary maneuvers we have witnessed all this year. Let me make one historical point in defense of my position. When the deal goes down on the question of war and peace the only time that war stops in the ‘people’s’ interest is when the soldiers themselves put down their arms. In modern times I would refer the reader to World War I, the Russian Revolution and the American experience in the latter parts of the Vietnam War. Give some thought to this proposition. (Even my proposition has lost some of its potential as American casualty levels and the smell of ‘victory’ in Baghdad have made the troops less receptive to anti-war efforts-Markin 12/20.) More, much more on this later.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

*The Streets Were Not for Dreaming, Part II- The Struggle Against The Nixon Juggernaut

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the Chicago democratic Convention in 1968.


Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man, Garry Wills, New American Library, New York, 1969

The English poet and Cromwellian revolutionary John Milton had his Samson struggling against forces that he did not understand and that in the end he was unable to overcome. Professor Wills in his seminal contemporaneous study of the career through his successful run in 1968, up close and personal, of one Richard Milhous Nixon, former President of the United, common criminal and currently resident of one of Dante’s Circles of Hell tries to place the same spin on the vices and virtues of this modern “Everyman”.

Wills takes us through Nixon’s hard scrabble childhood, the formative Quaker background in sunny California, the post World War II start of Nixon’s rapidly advancing hard anti-communist political career, his defeats for president in 1960 by John Kennedy and for California governor in 1962 by Pat Brown and his resurrection in 1968 against Democrat Hubert H. Humphrey. And through his discourse, as is his habit, Professor Wills seemingly writes about every possible interpretation of his rise to power and what Nixon symbolized on the American political landscape. If one has a criticism of Wills it is exactly this sociological overkill to make a point but make your own judgment on this one as you read through this tract.

However, as well written and well researched as this exposition is it will just not wash. Nixon knew what the score was at all times and in all places so that unlike old Samson there was no question of his not understanding. As Wills points out Nixon had an exceptional grasp of the ‘dark side’ of the American spirit in the middle third of the 20th century and he pumped that knowledge for all it was worth. Moreover, rather than cry over his self-imposed fate one should understand that Nixon liked it that way. There is no victim here of overwhelming and arbitrary circumstances clouding his fate.

It is perhaps hard for those who were not around then, or older folks who have forgotten, just what Nixon meant as a villainous political target to those of us of the Generation of 68 for all that was wrong with American political life (although one Lyndon Johnson gave him a run for his money as demon-in-chief). Robert Kennedy had it very eloquently right, as he did on many occasions, when he said that Richard Nixon represented the ‘dark side of the American spirit’. For those who believe that all political evil started with the current President George W. Bush, think again. Nixon was the ‘godfather’ of the current ilk. Some have argued that in retrospect compared to today’s ravenous beasts that Nixon’s reign was benign. Believe that at your peril. Just to be on the safe side let’s put another stake through his heart. And read this book to get an idea of what a representative of a previous generation of political evil looked like.

Although the Nixon saga is the central story that drives this book Professor Wills, as is his wont, has a lot more to say about the nature of those times. He takes some interesting side trips into earlier days in California where Nixon grew up. He draws a direct line on the various other personalities like Nelson Rockefeller, George Romney (Mitt’s father) and a younger Ronald Reagan who fought Nixon for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968. He gives an interesting overview of the state of liberal and radical thought during 1968 and how the tensions between them were fought out at the Democratic Convention and in the streets of Chicago.

Wills also tries to draw out the meaning of the virulent George Wallace independent third party campaign and how that kept everyone on their toes on the question of law and order the code word then, and today, for race. In short, Professor Wills has enclosed the Nixon story in a hug sociological and political survey of the times. Some of his observations had momentary importance; some have a more lasting value. Others seem rather beside the point. Collectively, however, they give a helpful history of the key year 1968 in America. The proof is in the pudding. The ‘culture wars’ on the nature of personal rights, political expression and lifestyle choices that we have been fighting for the past forty years have their genesis in this time. Give this book a good, hard look if you want to know what that was all about by someone who covered many of the events closely.

Victory to the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK)!

As I write this commentary the Turks are already bombing and sending foot soldiers over the border to Iraq in pursuit of PKK militants. It is the duty of every leftist to stand in solidarity with the PKK and call for their military victory over Turkey. Below I have republished a commentary from earlier this fall that highlights the central question at issue. I would add one supplementary note to the commentary below that would change our attitude a liitle toward the Iraqi Kurds in the present situation. To the extent that they militarily support and defend the PKK in Northern Iraq we call for their defense against the Turks as well. That position might change if American troops intervene directly in the north.



The minute one enters into the murky waters of Middle East politics one is immediately confronted with words like, insolvable, daunting, and hopeless. If there is one area of the world that cries out for a multi-nationally derived socialist solution it is this benighted area. Practically speaking, however, that prospect is music for the future. Nevertheless some programmatic points can be put forth today that will cut across the racial, ethnic and religious divides that lead one to use the above-mentioned words of despair. One such point is not even a socialist point per se- the question of a nation’s right to self determination. Yes, that question is off the table for those nations that have already established their right to it by force of arms, or otherwise. However, in the case of the interpenetrated peoples of the Middle East some real nations have been left on the sidelines. In no case is this clearer than with the Kurds, the largest coherent population without a state of their own.

Recent headlines have highlighted this question point blank as Turkey, one of the four nations along with Syria, Iraq and Iran in the region that have significant Kurdish populations, has attempted to solve its Kurdish ‘problem’, as in the past, by militarily annihilating various guerilla operations wherever they crop up- here across the border in neighboring Iraq. I make no pretense that this solves all the questions of this area in regard to the Kurdish situation, for example, militants do not today raise the right of national self-determination for Kurds in Iraq who have consciously subordinated themselves to American imperialism but the beginning of wisdom today is to defend those guerilla forces, mainly the Kurdish Workers Party, in their fight against their national oppressor-Turkey. More, much more on this situation as it unfolds but for now the prospective slogan is –For the right to national self-determination for the Kurds in Turkey. For the future- A United Kurdistan.

The Second Amendment- The Right To Revolution


A few weeks ago the United States Supreme Court decided to take a case, to be heard in the spring of 2008, involving the question of interpretation of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Despite the continuing overwhelming proliferation of guns and other armament in individual hands in this country the question of the meaning of the ambiguously phrased amendment has not faced much federal litigation in the lower courts and very, very seldom at the Supremes, the last case being heard in the late 1930’s over machine guns. The issue to be decided, if it is, is whether the amendment confers an individual right to bear arms, with or without restrictions, or whether it is a collective right to security by the maintenance of armed forces, in this case, citizen militias. The early betting is that the conservative court will hold that the right is individual but that like other amendments in the Bill of Rights, such as those that guarantee free speech and assembly, the government has the right to make reasonable restrictions on that right. Thus a whole new field of litigation will be opened up until somewhere down the road there is settled law on the issue.

That this issue was helped along through the judicial pipeline by the well greased efforts of a right wing businessman who wanted to test the waters only adds intrigue the question and demonstrates once again the proposition that when it comes to American justice you better have good lawyers and plenty of ready cash. Despite the source of the case’s origin, despite the probable outcome of the case and despite the ravings of the National Rifle Association and other gun aficiados socialists would welcome a legal interpretation that establishes an individual right to bear arms. However, like many issues that are not necessarily of our own making we have our own distinct rationale for our position. We see the issue in the context of the right to revolution. As the case develops I will have additional commentary from this angle as the arguments are heard and the decision made next year.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Short Note On a Small "Victory"- Crack Cocaine Sentencing

Commentary-Revised December 17, 2007

One of the most bizarre twists in the United States Sentencing Guidelines that have for a generation controlled judicial discretion in the federal system has been the distinction drawn in many federal sentences between crack cocaine and ‘straight’ cocaine. Not entirely by accident that difference in severity for crack cocaine has been reflected in the disproportionate number of blacks and Hispanics incarcerated for the crime. Recently the United States Sentencing Commission, the governmental organization that established the guidelines, did an about face for many of the crack cocaine offenses and reduced the disparity. Since the hysteria over crack cocaine has died down and further information has indicated that the differences between the two forms of the drug is not significant the Commission voted 7-0, over Bush Administration objections, to retroactively permit challenges to sentences in many of these cases. An estimated 20,000 prisoners could be positively affected by the decision.

Although leftists do not share the illusions in the capitalist justice system that one commissioner, Federal Judge William Sessions of the District Court in Vermont, expressed when declaring that this decision goes a long way to insuring a ‘color blind’ justice system we nevertheless will take such a 'victory’ when it comes along. And that I think is the point here. The Federal system is loaded, no, over- loaded with prisoners sentenced during the heyday of the “war against drugs” for crimes that should never have been crimes in the first place. I have argued, and continue to argue today, that drugs should be decriminalized. In most cases possession of drugs constitutes a personal preference and as such are so-called ‘crimes without victims’ and that is where it should be left-out of the court system. One estimate has it that some 60,000 of the over 200, 000 prisoners in federal jails are there for some drug related crime. That alone tells the tale. Moreover, multiply that figure by the numbers of drug prisoners in state and local facilities and one can only conclude that something is very wrong here. Down with the ‘war against drugs’. Decriminalize drug use now.

Monday, December 10, 2007



There appears to be something of a political law that bourgeois ideologues, venal as many of them are, do not retire but merely move on to greener pastures. At least that appears to be the case with one Karl Rove who until this past September served as President George W. Bush’s ‘brain’. No sooner had we seen him off to the rolling hills of East Texas the he pops up on the “Charlie Rose Show”. And his purpose? To muddy the waters about who and who did not act impulsively in the lead up to the ill-fated Iraq War. Rove is retailing the notion that the legislative branch, in this case, the august ‘slumbering giant’ United States Senate ‘bushwhacked’ the Administration into a rush to judgment. Okay, Karl have it your way. That, however, is not the real point here. The nefarious Mr. Rove is just getting a jump-start on history by influencing what the first drafts will look like. Oh, well. But mark this, some ‘objective’ historian writing about the Iraq War and the slow demise of the American Empire in fifty or one hundred years will, in order to give all sides their due, cite Mr. Rove’s remarks as good coin. Nice move, Karl. But know this also; there is no truth to be found in the man. Nevertheless, as I noted previously in the commentary reposted below written as a ‘tearful’ farewell to a departed foe in September here is savage class warrior.



Well by now everyone among the ‘chattering classes’ knows that Republican President George Bush’s ‘evil counselor’, one Karl Rove, has like so many in the recent past abandoned the sinking ship U.S.S. Bush and gone off to seek greener pastures in the hills of Texas. However, unlike most of the Bush ilk, the likes of Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz to a name a couple, I will miss Karl Rove as a target. Why? I will make a confession based on a very long experience in politics- I get along better with and better understand right wing ideologues than the usual mushy ‘consultant’ types who populate today’s political scene. The ‘band aid guys’ and the ‘scotch tape gals’ whose political program is a small grab bag of ‘nice’ things to tweak the capitalist system while leaving it intact and that solve nothing leave me cold. One only needs to mention the name of the apparently recently retired Democratic Party consultant and perennially ‘loser’ Robert Schrum to bring this point home.

Give me the hardball players, the real bourgeois class warriors, any day. They know there is a class struggle going on as well as I do and know and that, in the final analysis, it is a fight to the finish. And who will dare say that Karl Rove was not the hell-bent king of that crowd. Anyone who could get a genuine dolt like George Bush elected twice Governor of Texas and twice President of the United States without flinching knows his business. Imagine if Rove had had a real political street fighter like Richard Nixon for a client. Yes, I know in the end Mr. Rove and I will be shooting from different sides of the barricades but Karl was a real evil genius and I will miss that big target.

Karl Rove honed two basic propositions that Marxists can appreciate, even if only from an adversarial position. One was the above-mentioned sense of the vagaries of the class struggle for the bourgeois class that he has so faithfully represented. How he was able to grab the dirt poor and against the wall farmers of places like Kansas and the desperately poor of the small towns of the ‘Rust Belt’ as cannon fodder voters for a party that has not represented plebian interests since at least the 1870’s is worthy of study. The second was his notion, parliamentary-centered to be sure, of a ‘vanguard’ party. What? Karl Rove as some kind of closet Leninist? No. However, his proposition that the Republican party should cater to its social conservative base and drag whoever it could in their wake is a piece of political wisdom that leftists should think through more. That is a much better political approach than to rely on the current dominant ‘popular front’ strategy of organizing on the basis of the lowest common denominator issues whittled down to a meaningless point just to avoid antagonizing the Democrats instead of fighting for what is necessary. Yes, one can sometimes learn something from one’s political adversaries- Adieu, Karl.

Friday, December 07, 2007



Every once in a while left wing propagandists, including this writer, are forced to comment on odd ball political or social questions that are not directly related to the fight for socialism. Nevertheless such questions must be addressed in the interest of preserving democratic rights, such as they are. I have often argued that socialists are, or should be, the best defenders of democratic rights, hanging in there long after many bourgeois democrats have thrown in the towel, especially on constitutional questions like abortion and searches and seizures.

A good example from the not too distant past, which I am fond of citing because it seems so counter intuitive, was opposition to the impeachment of one William Jefferson Clinton, at one time President of the United States and now potentially the first First Ladies’ man. How, one might ask could professed socialists defend the rights of the Number One Imperialist –in Chief. Simple, Clinton was not being tried for any real crimes against working people but found himself framed by the right wing cabal for his personal sexual preferences and habits. That he was not very artful in defense of himself is beside the point. We say government out of the bedrooms (or wherever) whether White House or hovel. We do no favor political witch-hunts of the highborn or the low for their personal predilections. Interestingly, no one at the time proposed that Clinton be tried as a war criminal for his very real crimes in trying to bomb Serbia, under the guidance of one Wesley Clark, back to the Stone Age (and nearly succeeding). Enough said.

Now we are confronted with another strange situation in the case of one ex-Governor of Massachusetts and current Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney on the question of his Mormon religious affiliation and his capacity to be president of a secular state. Romney, on Thursday December 6, 2007 fled down to Houston, apparently forced to deal with the issue by his vanishing prospects in Iowa, and made a speech about his Mormon faith, or at least his fitness for office. This speech evoked in some quarters, at least formally, Jack Kennedy’s use in the 1960 presidential campaign of the same tool concerning his Roman Catholicism as a way to cut across anti-Catholic bigotry in a mainly Protestant country and to affirm his commitment to a democratic secular state. I pulled up that speech off the Internet and although Kennedy clearly evoked his religious affiliation many times in that speech he left it at that, a personal choice. He did not go on and on about his friendship with Jesus or enumerate the virtues of an increased role for religion in political life.

Romney’s play is another kettle of fish entirely. He WANTS to affirm that his Mormon beliefs rather than being rather esoteric are in line with mainstream Protestant fundamentalist tenets. In short, Jesus is his guide. Christ what hell, yes hell, have we come to when a major political party in a democratic secular state has for all intents and purposes a religious test for its nominee for president. A cursory glance at the history of 18th century England and its exclusion clauses, codified in statutes, for Catholics and dissenters demonstrates why our forbears rejected that notion. It is rather ironic that Romney evoked the name of Samuel Adams as an avatar of religious toleration during some ecumenical meeting in 1774. Hell, yes when you are getting ready to fight for a Republic, arms in hand, and need every gun willing to fight the King you are damn right religion is beside the point. Revolutions are like that. Trying to prove your mettle as a fundamentalist Christian in order to woo the yahoo vote in 2007 is hardly in the same category. Nevertheless on the democratic question- down with religious tests, formal or otherwise, for political office.

Now to get nasty. Isn’t it about time we started running these religious nuts back into their hideouts? I have profound differences with the political, social and economic organization of this country. However, as stated above, I stand for the defense of the democratic secular state against the yahoos when they try, friendly with Jesus or not, to bring religion foursquare into the ‘public square’. We have seen the effects of that for the last thirty or forty years and, hit me on the head if I am dreaming, but isn’t the current occupant of the White House on so kind of first name basis with his God. Enough. Look, this country is a prime example of an Enlightenment experiment, and tattered as it has become it is not a bad base to move on from. Those who, including Brother Romney, want a faith-based state- get back, way back. In the fight against religious obscurantism I will stand with science, frail as it sometimes is, any day. Defend the Enlightenment, and let’s move on.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Click on the title to link to an "Under The Hood" (Fort Hood G.I. Coffeehouse)Web site online article about the "Oleo Strut" Coffeehouse, an important development in the anti-Vietnam War struggle. Hats off to those bygone anti-war fighters.


Recently a reader asked me why during the last few months I have not highlighted the slogan for creating anti-war soldiers and sailors solidarity committees in my commentaries on Iraq. Fair enough. As noted in the headline, and as commentators seemingly from time immemorial have noted, much of politics is about timing. That is as true for a left wing political propagandist as it is for those today mired in any of the bourgeois party nomination processes. In fact, an argument can be made that it more important for us as openings in the political process, particularly in this country, are far fewer and therefore we need to be judicious. The long and short of it is that today, December 5th 2007, and for some time prior to this date, it has not been appropriate to raise that slogan.

Let me draw some distinctions around the question of the uses of political slogans. There are two basic, although sometimes overlapping, uses of political slogans. One is to make propaganda points about some crying political need that is not immediately possible. The propaganda fight for a workers party falls into that category. That slogan has general applicability in this period and only a radical and militant turn in the labor movement, like in the 1930’s, would, perhaps, render that slogan inappropriate. To not get too far from today’s reality the various ‘universal’ health care proposals, mainly from Democratic presidential contenders, are at this stage propaganda fights. The other use of political slogans is agitational-for immediate action. The slogan for Immediate Unconditional Withdrawal of U. S. Troops and Mercenaries from Iraq falls in that category- from day one of the Iraq War buildup.

So back to the slogan for creation of anti-war soldiers and sailors solidarity committees. There are many continuously appropriate slogans in the fight against American imperialism but that slogan is not one of them. For example, given the fact of an all-volunteer American army, in say the year 2000, we would not have raised such a slogan. It would have made no sense and, in any case, would have fallen on deaf ears in ‘peacetime’. For that matter raising it in 2003 would have made no sense, given the patriotic hysteria, even though it was a political necessary corollary to the fight for immediate withdrawal from Iraq. The same sense of timing holds true for the slogan calling for labor strikes against the war. Yes, that slogan is nice and necessary but the realities of the American labor movement at the time meant that it would not have intersected any real political movement.

No so for the solidarity committees in late 2005 and early 2006 when I, and unfortunately too few others, raised this slogan as an agitational response to the continuing American occupation in Iraq. At that point it was clear the Democrats were basically sitting on their hands hoping for a favorable result in the midterm 2006 elections. Furthermore, the bankruptcy of the ‘anti-war’ Democrats and their parliamentary strategy of piecemeal chipping away at the Iraq war budget and setting timetables for troop withdrawals was being laughed at by the Bush Administration and ignored by everyone else. Most importantly, the visible and vocal stirrings of opposition from the rank and file troops in Iraq and more forcefully by those who had returned after serving there gave an objective basis for anti-war opponents to link up with the rank and file troops to try to shut down the war.

What has changed in the political situation to make that slogan no longer an agitational demand (although the jury is still out on its propaganda use)? It’s the ‘surge’, stupid! We need to recognize that General Petreaus’s strategy has ‘worked’, in the short haul. American causalities are down, violence has been reduced, the Iraqis are making ‘nice’, etc. That is the political reality we work with now at least until the spring when the troop attrition rate will make the situation clearer, one way or the other. In any case, the rumblings, mumblings and grumbling by the rank and file troops have drastically fallen. Nothing could demonstrate this more clearly that a question that I put to the ‘street’ journalist Noel Troett about troop morale in Iraq and the question of the committees. (See archives in this space). He dismissed the idea out of hand in today’s Iraq. Why? The troops smell ‘victory’. That is not a predicate for turning the world upside down. Right? Will the slogan for anti-war soldiers and sailors solidarity committees be raised again if the situation turned for the worst in Iraq next year? Good question. Probably not, the slogan is by its nature conjunctural and it is hard to see the troops getting uppity again any time soon. The only things I see in my crystal ball now are that Bush will leave the Iraq mess behind him for the next administration to deal with and the next administration will hem and hew about not letting the Iraqi security situation deteriorate by withdrawing troops. Raise hell about withdrawal now but better start getting your banners and posters ready for January 20th 2009, as well.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007



I hope that I am not the only one who has noticed that the war in Iraq has fallen way below the newspaper fold lately. As a prime example in a recent edition of the Boston Globe news of the war was on page 10. Page One, front and center, featured the trials and tribulations of those yuppie trend setters who are ‘pioneering’ the concept of luxury condo living adjacent to upscale malls. Go figure. I was ready to get out the old hankerchief on that on.

Moreover, the vaunted presidential campaign has shifted it axis, especially on the Democratic side, as there is now far more talk about various domestic priorities than the fate of the war. On the Republican side there is a certain amount of gloating, especially by Senator McCain who has hinged the fate on his campaign on the success of the troop ‘surge’ to bring some stability to Iraq. And frankly he should gloat. One would have to be a fool, political or otherwise, to not recognize, that at least in the short haul that military strategy has worked. Whether come next spring when American troop levels go down by attrition and the Iraqi forces have to fend for themselves more that will still be the case is still an open question.

This is a good time to be clear here about why we opposed this war in the first place. If for no other reason, we opposed this war as an act of imperial hubris. We very definitely did not oppose it under a standard of whether it made military sense or that the question of ‘victory’ for the American side was important or not . We have to remember that as we are once again, as in the immediate aftermath of the invasion in 2003, somewhat isolated and shut off politically. In short, the political slogan of the day still is- Immediate Unconditional Withdrawal of U.S. Troops and Mercenaries from Iraq! Know this though- there is a world of political different between forcing the troop question through our political efforts and the leisurely withdrawal of troops, if any, on the Bush (or any) Administration’s timetable. We must continue to force the issue. More, much more on this question will follow as the situation develops over the next few months.

Monday, December 03, 2007


My old friend Noel Toertt, free-lance ‘street’ journalist and contributor to the monthly political magazine New Dawn, is just back from Iraq. If you are merely interested in the handouts from the U.S. Embassy or press conferences by Central Command in order to find out about the situation there pass this by. However, if you want to know what the situation is on the ‘street’ Noel will more times than not give you some insight into what is happening and why. Sometime I will give a real biographic sketch on the man but for now know that he is of Russian-German heritage. His grandfather was a Czarist general at the time of the Russian Revolution. An uncle fought in the Ernst Thaelmann Battalion of the International Brigades in Spain during the Civil War. Those seemingly contradictory facts will tell you part of the tale of his life. Make no mistake, as the interview below will make clear, we do not share the same political universe for the most part. What we do share is the need to turn the world upside down. This interview took place on October 21, 2007. More of the interview will follow in later entries. Any transcription problems are mine. Any political problems you can be the judge.

Markin: Noel, long time no see. How are you doing? You look at little tired?

Tortt: Ya, my flight back from the Middle East was a nightmare. I think I would rather have been on a cargo plane at least you have room on them. And the booze is better.

Markin: Just to set the frame for the interview when did you first go to the Middle East?

Tortt: Actually I started covering the area at the time of the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, about 1980; I worked out of Pakistan first. Iraq about 1990 during the build up for the first Iraq war. Afghanistan again in 2001 and Iraq again, off and on, since late 2003. I have written about all of this maybe a hundred times.

Markin: Okay now that we have established your ‘credentials’ here is the first ‘softball’ question. I have been arguing, unhappily, since late spring that, all things being equal, that the Bush troop ‘surge’ in Iraq by placing more troops on the ground would be successful in the short haul. As long at the American troops stayed in the lead. Now several months later and after the Petreaus/Crocker reports to Congress and the tamp down on known acts of violence it looks to me like that is the case. What is your take on this?

Tortt: Look, let’s look at this from this perspective. A conventional army like the American one, and especially the American one, can rain hell down on any other conventional army if it has the will. Adding a few more troops, more or less, doesn’t really change the mix. This asymmetric warfare is a different baby though. Once the numbers for the ‘surge’ and where they would be concentrated became general knowledge insurgent decisions had to be made. For the various insurgent operations you noticed what amounted to a self-imposed tamp down on confronting the American forces. So yes, today, and I only speak of today in an almost literal sense, the ‘surge’ has had some successes. But listen, the atmosphere in places like Baghdad is so tense you could cut a knife through it. That’s the real situation. Waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Markin: Waiting for the other shoe drop and do what?

Tortt: Waiting for the Americans to back off enough to go back on the ‘offensive’ and this time with more sophistication and probably more co-coordinated attacks. One thing that gets forgotten in the mix is that these guys have nothing but time. Hell for the most part it’s their country so they aren’t going anywhere. They also know that the Americans have to leave sometime so like smart guys they prepare, keep up enough of a presence to worry the American generals and move when the time is right. Not a nice picture from the American side but that is the story.

Markin: How do you know that they, the insurgents, have not just decided that there is no way forward on the road they were pursuing and have decided to close up shop?

Toertt: Let’s go back to that tension in the air business I mentioned a while ago. Nothing indicates that they have given up the struggle. Let me tell a little point to bring that home. I ran into a kid, and I do mean kid, who was carrying about a half dozen cell phones in need of various repairs. He approached me and asked me for some batteries that I did not have. I asked since the phones did not seem to work what he needed batteries for. He replied that a ‘friend’ would have them working pretty soon. The way he said it made me think that something more than calling his girlfriend was on his mind. No, they are getting ready believe that. By the way those cell phones were thrown away by the Americans in the Green Zone if that kid was not lying, and I do not think he was. Shades of Vietnam all over again.

Markin: What do you mean?

Toertt: Well, the American army in Vietnam supplied, incidentally and unintentionally, a fair amount of material to the South Vietnamese Liberation forces that they turned around and used as ammo, etc. against the Americans. Also remember the Iraqis are smart people. Hell this area is the cradle of civilization and although they have lost a few steps over the centuries they are still smart. It never did anyone any good to underestimate a determined foe, although the Americans repeatedly do so.

Markin: Well, if the Bush strategy is a temporary success at least what about the other part of the puzzle- turning the war over to the Iraqi national army and police forces?

Toertt: That, Markin, is a whole different ball game. Let me take a couple of steps back on this. Saddam build a pretty good national army in his time. At least it looked like it could fight or be used, as is the usual case, for any internal disturbances. However, he squandered that army in the Iran wars in the 1980’s. Then the cream got decimated in the Kuwait fiasco in 1991. After that the thing was a bleeding hulk. By the time 2003 rolls around it is essentially human dust. Nothing since then has indicated that a national army, or for that matter police force, can be built that will do the job of defending the government or put a stop to foreign interventions. Look it is hard to create a real army. You need cadre. As I mentioned above that, for the most part, has been liquidated. So what you have now are a bunch of kids who have seen nothing but failure being forced usually out of economic necessity to take up the gun. Add in the sectarian aspect and the stigma of working with the occupiers and that does not present a very good picture. That is what the American generals scream into the night about.

Markin: That sounds like a recipe for a very long occupation

Toertt: Right, do not let anyone kid you, nobody I talked to realistically thought about being out of Iraq for five to ten years with the ten years being more likely. And they were not sure even then that the army they trained could do the job. Believe me when they invented the expression between a rock and a hard place they had something like Iraq in mind. More than that though I do not see a will to create an army. There are just a bunch of scared kids (justifiably so) in a place they do not want to be in. The proof of that are the exceedingly few operations the Iraqis do on their own. You made me laugh one time when you said in one of your commentaries that you would like to see the Iraqis do an operation without half the 82nd Airborne beside them. You hit the nail on the head on that one.

Markin: Well here is the ‘hard’ question. We have talked earlier today and at previous times about this. As you know for the last year or more I have been arguing for a change in orientation for the anti-war movement away from the futile parliamentary maneuvering and linking up with the rank and file troops in Iraq to end the war. I asked you before you left for Iraq this time to get a feel for this for me. What did you think?

Toertt: Markin, you have got to move away from your love of the Russian Revolution and all that happened there. It is starting to unbalance you. Sure the Russian troops then were ready to lead the fight against continuing the war and they did it with their feet. Hell, they tried to boil my grandfather the General in a barrel. But that was different. They were war weary, they had land hunger and mainly they were tired of the offensives that led nowhere except to death. Rather exceptional circumstances won’t you agree. And nothing like today.

Markin: I figured I would have to take a verbal beating from you on this but as I have pointed out before the whole point of making propaganda for this position was to change the axis away from reliance on essentially Democratic parliamentary maneuvering to bring about a troop withdrawal. Believe it or not I realize that conditions in Russia in 1917 and today are different but the task is the same.

Toertt: Okay, Okay we have been through that before but to answer your question I do not see any movement like that today. First, the ‘success’ of the surge has tended to solidify the rank and file back to at least neutrality about what they are doing there. Secondly these kids are a long way from home and want to get home fast. The shortest way seems to be to do their time and rotate. I also think that the effects of being a part of a professional force tend to militate against those kinds of actions. In Russia, and even in the late stages of the Vietnam War, these were actions of citizen-soldiers fed up with the way things were going. I got no sense of that. Sure there is some opposition to the war among the rank and file. And also some confusion about why they are there. And importantly, some resentment toward those who they perceive are not respectful of their mission. All those things are normal and to be expected.

Markin: Okay, that is a fair enough evaluation although it does not negate the need for a change in orientation. One last question for this round. Where does all this go? If parliamentary maneuvering is doomed, if the troops will not lead us out- then what?

Toertt: You like to call yourself a hard socialist realpolitik politician. I like to call myself a tough liberal realpolitik observer. Here is the hard reality. Korea and Germany. Yes, a long term occupation force smaller than today’s for a very long time, make that a very, very long time no matter what administration is in power, except if your guys take political power before. Ouch.

Markin: Thanks, I will take that under advisement.

*22nd Annual Holiday Appeal-Free All Class-War Prisoners!

Click on to the title to link to the Partisan Defense Committee Web site.

This appeal is passed on from the Partisan Defense Committee. I need only add that support for class-war prisoners is a duty not charity. Dig deep for our brothers and sisters.

Workers Vanguard Mo. 903 23 November 2007

22nd Annual Holiday Appeal

Free the Class-War Prisoners!

(Class-Struggle Defense Notes)

"The class-conscious worker accords to the class-war prisoners a place of singular honor and esteem."

— James P. Cannon, "The Cause that Passes Through a Prison," Labor Defender, September 1926

For the past 22 years, the Partisan Defense Committee has been sending monthly stipends as an expression of solidarity to those imprisoned for standing up to racist capitalist repression. In doing so, we have revived the tradition initiated by the International Labor Defense (ILD) under Cannon, a founding leader of the Communist Party and the ILD's first secretary (1925-28). This year, as in years past, the PDC calls on labor activists, fighters for black rights, radical youth and defenders of civil liberties to join us in building our annual Holiday Appeal, which raises funds for this unique program.

The Holiday Appeal benefits will focus particularly on our campaign to mobilize mass protest demanding freedom for death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. Mumia currently awaits a decision by a federal appeals court on whether to reinstitute the death sentence, keep him entombed in prison for life or grant him a new trial or other legal proceedings. For those fighting for Mumia's freedom, there must be no illusions in capitalist "justice." Earlier this year, the capitalist courts again turned down appeals by class-war prisoners Leonard Pettier, Ed Poindexter and Mumia's son Jamal Hart. Build the Holiday Appeal! Free all class-war prisoners!
Mumia Abu-Jamal is a former Black Panther Party spokesman, a well-known supporter of the MOVE organization and an award-winning journalist known as "the voice of the voiceless." The fight to free America's foremost class-war prisoner has reached a crucial juncture. This past May, oral arguments "were heard before the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals — the last stage before the U.S. Supreme Court. A decision could come at any moment.

9 December 2007 marks the 26th anniversary of Mumia's arrest for a killing that the cops know he did not commit. Mumia was framed up for the 1981 killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner and sentenced to death explicitly for his political views. More than six years ago, Mumia's attorneys submitted to the courts the sworn confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Muraia, shot and killed Faulkner, but to the racists in black robes, a court of law is no place for evidence of the innocence of this fighter for the oppressed.

Mumia faces the racist death penalty or life in prison because he has always spoken for the oppressed, like the Jena 6 or those left to die in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Workers, immigrants, minorities and all opponents of racist oppression must redouble their efforts to free Mumia now!

Leonard Peltier is an internationally revered class-war prisoner. His incarceration for his activism in the American Indian Movement has come to symbolize this country's racist repression of its native peoples, the survivors of centuries of genocidal oppression. Peltier's frame-up trial for the deaths of two marauding FBI agents in what had become a war zone at the South Dakota Pine Ridge Reservation in 1975 shows what capitalist "justice" is all about. Although the lead government attorney has admitted: "We can't prove who shot those agents," and the courts have acknowledged blatant prosecutorial misconduct, the 63-year-old Peltier is still locked away. In separate lawsuits, early this year federal courts in New York and Minnesota kept under government seal thousands of FBI documents, once again covering up the racist frame-up that has already Stolen 30 years of his life.

Jamal Hart, Mumia's son, was sentenced in 1998 to 15 1/2 years without parole on bogus firearms possession charges. Hart was targeted for his prominent activism in the campaign to free his father. Although Hart was initially charged under Pennsylvania laws, which would have meant a probationary sentence, Clinton's Justice Department intervened to have Hart thrown into prison under federal laws. Hart was transferred to Minersville, PA, where prison officials subjected him to repeated provocations and improperly adjusted Hart's security level to deny him transfer to a lower level security facility; a transfer to Loretto, PA, has finally been granted. In October, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals summarily turned down Hart's habeas corpus petition which would have freed him after more than ten years in prison.

Eight MOVE members, Chuck Africa, Michael Africa, Debbie Africa, Janet Africa, Janine Africa, Delbert Africa, Eddie Africa and Phil Africa, are in their 30th year of prison. They were sentenced to 30-100 years after the 8 August 1978 siege of their Philadelphia home by over 600 heavily armed cops, falsely convicted of killing a police officer who died in the cops' own cross fire. In 1985, eleven of their MOVE family members, including five children, were massacred by Philly cops. In 2008, the MOVE prisoners will be eligible for parole, but without massive calls for their freedom can only expect continued imprisonment.

Jaan Laaman and Thomas Manning are the remaining anti-imperialist activists known as the Ohio 7 still in prison, convicted for their roles in a radical group that took credit for bank "expropriations" and bombings in the late 1970s and '80s against symbols of U.S. imperialism such as military and corporate offices. Before their arrests in 1984 and 1985, the Ohio 7 were targets of massive manhunts. Their children were kidnapped at gunpoint by the Feds.

The Ohio 7’s politics were once shared by thousands of radicals during the Vietnam antiwar movement and by New Leftists who wrote off the possibility of winning the working class to a revolutionary program and saw themselves as an auxiliary of Third World liberation movements. But, like the Weathermen before them, the Ohio 7 were spurned by the "respectable" left. From a proletarian standpoint, the actions of these leftist activists against imperialism and racist injustice are not a crime. They should not have served a day in prison.

Ed Poindexter and Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa are former Black Panther supporters and leaders of the Omaha, Nebraska, National Committee to Combat Fascism. They were victims of the deadly FBI COINTELPRO operation under which 38 Black Panther Party members were killed and hundreds more imprisoned on frame-up charges. Poindexter and Mondo, railroaded to prison for a 1970 explosion which killed a cop, were sentenced to life and have now served more than 35 years in jail. In September, a Nebraska court denied a new trial for Poindexter despite the fact that a crucial piece of evidence excluded from the original trial, a long-suppressed 911 audio tape, proved that testimony of the state's key witness was perjured.

Hugo Pinell is the last of the San Quentin 6 still in prison. He was a militant anti-racist leader of prison rights organizing along with his comrade and mentor, George Jackson, who was gunned down by prison guards in 1971. Despite hundreds of letters of support and no disciplinary write-ups for over 26 years, Pinell has repeatedly been denied parole, most recently in November 2006. Now in his 60s, Pinell continues to serve a life sentence at the notorious Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit in California.

Contribute now! All proceeds from the Holiday Appeals will go to the Class-War Prisoners Stipend Fund. Send your contributions to: PDC, P.O. Box 99, Canal Street Station, New York, NY 10013; (212) 406-4252.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

*Support The PDC Holiday Appeal-Class- Struggle Defense Work In The U.S. - Building on the Heritage of the International Labor Defense

Markin comment:

The following is an article from an archival issue of Women and Revolution, Winter-Spring, 1996, that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of Women and Revolution during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.


Class- Struggle Defense Work In The U.S. - Building on the Heritage of the International Labor Defense

We print below an edited speech by Deborah Mackson, executive director of the Partisan Defense Committee, prepared for April 7995 regional educationals in New York, Chicago and Oakland as part of a series of meetings and rallies sponsored by the PDC to mobilize support for Mum/a Abu-Jamal and the fight against the racist death penalty.
Mumia Abu-Jamal describes his current conditions of incarceration on death row at the State Correctional Institution at Greene County, Pennsylvania as "high-tech hell." When Governor Tom Ridge assaults all of the working people and minorities of this country by initiating the first execution of a political prisoner in America since the Rosenbergs, he must hear a resounding "No!" from coast to coast. Because Jamal is an articulate voice for the oppressed, this racist and rotting capitalist state wants to silence him forever. He is indeed dangerous. He is indeed a symbol. He is, indeed, innocent. Hear his powerful words, and you will begin to understand the hatred and fear which inspires the vendetta against this courageous fighter:

"Over many long years, over mountains of fears, through rivers of repression, from the depths of the valley of the shadow of death, I survive to greet you, in the continuing spirit of rebellion.... As America's ruling classes rush backwards into a new Dark Age, the weight of repression comes easier with each passing hour. But as repression increases, so too must resistance.... Like our forefathers, our fore-mothers, our kith and kin, we must fight for every inch of ground gained. The repressive wave sweeping this country will not stop by good wishes, but only by a counterwave of committed people firm in their focus."

We of the Partisan Defense Committee, the Spartacist League and the Labor Black Leagues are committed to a campaign to free this former Black Panther, award-winning journalist and supporter of the controversial MOVE organization who was framed for the 1981 killing of a Philadelphia policeman. Our aim is to effect an international campaign of protest and publicity like that which ultimately saved the nine Scottsboro Boys, framed for rape in Alabama in 1931, from the electric chair. We must mobilize the working class and all the oppressed in the fight to free this class-war prisoner framed by the government's murderous vendetta.

As Marxists, we are opposed to the death penalty on principle. We say that this state does not have the right to decide who lives and who dies. Capital punishment is part of the vast arsenal of terror at the hands of this state, which exists to defend the capitalist system of exploitation and oppression. America's courts are an instrument of the bourgeoisie's war on the working people and the poor; they are neither neutral nor by any stretch of the imagination "color blind."

To us, the defense of America's class-war prisoners— whatever their individual political views may be—is a responsibility of the revolutionary vanguard party which must champion all causes in the interest of the proletariat. The Partisan Defense Committee was initiated by the Spartacist League in 1974 in the tradition of the working-class defense policies of the International Labor Defense, under its founder and first secretary from 1925 to 1928, James P. Cannon. Today, I want to talk to you about how that tradition was built in this country by the best militants of the past 100 years—the leaders of class-struggle organizations like the pre-World War I Industrial Workers of the World, the early Socialist and Communist parties and the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party.

The Roots of Black Oppression

To forge a future, one has to understand the past. The modern American death penalty is the barbaric inheritance of a barbaric system of production: chattel slavery. Like the capitalists who hold state power today, the slavocracy used the instruments of their power, special bodies of armed men and the "justice" system— the laws, courts and prisons—to control people for profit. Directly descendant from the slavocracy's tradition of property in black people is the death penalty. A trail through history illustrates this truth. The "slave codes" codified a series of offenses for which slaves could be killed but for which whites would receive a lesser sentence. In Virginia, the death penalty was mandatory for both slaves and free blacks for any crime for which a white could be imprisoned for three years or more. In Georgia, a black man convicted of raping a white woman faced the death penalty; a white man got two years for the same crime, and punishment was "discretionary" if the victim was black. Slaves could not own property, bear arms, assemble or testify against whites in courts of law. Marriage between slaves was not recognized; families were sold apart; it was illegal to teach a slave to read and write. Slaves were not second- or third-class citizens—they were not human, but legally "personal, movable property," chattel.

William Styron in The Confessions of Nat Turner has the fictional character T.R. Gray explain the slaveowners' rationale to Turner:

"The point is that you are animate chattel and animate chattel is capable of craft and connivery and wily stealth. You ain't a wagon, Reverend, but chattel that possesses moral choice and spiritual volition. Remember that well. Because that's how come the law provides that animate chattel like you can be tried for a felony, and that's how come you're goin' to be tried next Sattidy. "He paused, then said softly without emotion: 'And hung by the neck until dead'."

While the slave codes were a Southern institution, legal and extralegal terror were never exclusive to the South. As early as 1793, fugitive slave laws were on the federal books. The 1850 Fugitive Slave Law was passed in response to the growing abolitionist influence which had inspired several Northern states to pass "personal liberty laws," giving some protection to slaves who had successfully negotiated the Underground Railroad. The 1850 law, seeking to protect the private property of slaveholders, put the burden of proof on captured blacks, but gave them no legal power to prove their freedom—no right to habeas corpus, no right to a jury trial, no right even to testify on their own behalf.

Many blacks were caught in the clutches of this infamous law, which had no bounds. For example, a man in southern Indiana was arrested and returned to an owner’ who claimed he had run away 79 years before. The law knew no pretense. A magistrate's fee doubled if he judged an unfortunate black before the bench a runaway slave instead of a tree man. And fugitives were pursued with vigor. In Battle Cry of Freedom, historian James McPherson recounts the story of Anthony Burns, a slave who stowed away from Virginia to Boston in 1854. The feds spent the equivalent of $2.3 million in current dollars to return him to his "owner." That is approximately equal to what an average death penalty case costs today.

Any hope that "blind justice" could be sought from the U.S. Supreme Court was dashed with the 1856 Dred Scott decision. Chief Justice Taney wrote that at the time the Constitution was adopted, Negroes "had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior far inferior, that they had no rights which a white man was bound to respect."

While slavery itself was overthrown in the Civil War and Reconstruction, the needs of the American capitalists for compulsory agricultural labor in the South remained. A new, semi-capitalistic mode of agriculture developed, in which the semi-slave condition of the freed blacks was made permanent by the re-establishment of the social relations of slavery: color discrimination buttressed by segregation and race prejudice.

After the Civil War the slave codes became the "black codes," a separate set of rules defining crime and punishment for blacks and limiting their civil rights. They were enforced by the extralegal terror of the Ku Klux Klan; in the last two decades of the 19th century, lynching vastly outnumbered legal executions. As W.E.B. Du Bois said of lynching:

"It is not simply the Klu Klux Klan; it is not simply weak officials; it is not simply inadequate, unenforced law. It is deeper, far deeper than all this: it is the in-grained spirit of mob and murder, the despising of women and the capitalization of children born of 400 years of Negro slavery and 4,000 years of government for private profit."

The promise of Radical Reconstruction, equality, could only be fulfilled by attacking the problem at its very root: private property in the means of production. Neither Northern capitalists nor Southern planters could abide that revolution, so they made a deal, the Compromise of 1877, in their common interest. That's why we call on American workers, black and white, to finish the Civil War—to complete, through socialist revolution, the unfinished tasks of the Second American Revolution!

In the wake of the Compromise of 1877, the U.S. Supreme Court began to dismantle the Civil Rights Acts of the Reconstruction period. One landmark decision was Plessey v. Ferguson in 1896, which permitted "separate but equal" treatment of black and white in public facilities. But separate is never equal. This was simply the legal cover for the transformation of the "black codes" into "Jim Crow"—the "grandfather clause," poll tax, literacy test, all designed to deny blacks the vote, and the institution of separate facilities from schools to cemeteries. This legal and practical segregation, instituted in the South and transported North, was a tool to divide and rule.

America's Racist Death Penalty

The death penalty was applied at will until 1972. From 1930 to 1967 the U.S. averaged 100 or more executions per year. In 1972, following a decade of civil rights protests, the Supreme Court ruled the death penalty was "cruel and unusual punishment" because of its arbitrary and capricious application. But the hiatus lasted only four years.

In 1976-the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty and has been expanding it ever since. In 1986 the court ruled it unconstitutional to execute the insane, but gave no criteria for defining insanity; in 1988 it approved the execution of 16-year-olds; in 1989 it ruled for the execution of retarded persons. Since 1976, 276 people have been executed in this country. Between January and April of 1995, 17 were killed. And innocence is no barrier, as the Supreme Court recently decreed in the case of Jesse Dewayne Jacobs, executed in Texas in January 1995 after the prosecution submitted that he had not committed the crime for which he had been sentenced. The Supreme Court said it didn't matter, he'd had a "fair trial." What an abomination!
Perhaps the most telling case in recent history was the 1987 McCleskey decision. The evidence submitted to the courts illustrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that racism ruled the application of the death penalty. Overall, a black person convicted of killing a white person is 22 times more likely to be sentenced to death than if the victim is black. When the McCleskey case went to court, liberals across the country hoped for a Brown v. Board of Education decision in regard to the death penalty. The evidence of racial bias was clear and overwhelming. But while the Supreme Court accepted the accuracy of the evidence, it said it doesn't matter. The court showed the real intention of the death penalty when it stated that McCleskey's claim "throws into serious question the principles that underlie our entire criminal justice system" and "the validity of capital punishment in our multi-racial society." Or as a Southern planter wrote in defense of the slave codes, "We have to rely more and more on the power of fear.... We are determined to continue masters" (quoted in Kenneth Stampp, The Peculiar Institution).

Let's take a look for a moment at "our multi-racial society." The U.S. has the highest rate of incarceration in the world: 344 per 100,000. It is one of the two "advanced" industrial countries left in the world which employs capital punishment. As of January 1995, 2,976 men, women and children occupied America's death rows; 48 are women, 37 are juveniles. According to the latest census, blacks make up 12 percent of the population, yet 51 percent of the people awaiting execution are minorities and 40 percent are black.

Eighty-four percent of all capital cases involve white victims even though 50 percent of murder victims in America are black. Of a total of 75 people executed for interracial murders, three involved a black victim and a white defendant, 72 involved a white victim and a black defendant. The death penalty is truly an impulse to genocide against the black population for whom the ruling class no longer sees any need in its profit-grabbing calculations.

Understanding this and understanding the broader importance of the black question in America, we take up Jamal's case as a concrete task in our struggle for black freedom and for proletarian revolution in the interests of the liberation of all of humanity.

Early History of Class-Struggle Defense

From the beginning of the communist movement, a commitment to those persecuted by the ruling classes, whether "on the inside" or out, has been recognized as an integral part of the class struggle. Marx and Engels spent years defending and supporting the refugees of-the Paris Commune.

As Trotskyists, we feel this responsibility keenly because we inherited some of the finest principles for class-struggle defense from James R Cannon, the founder of American Trotskyism. The traditions which inspired the International Labor Defense (ILD) were forged in hard class struggle, dating back to the rise of the labor movement after the Civil War. One of the first acts of the Republican government following the Compromise of 1877 was to pull its troops from the South and send them to quell the railway strikes that had broken out throughout the Northern states. The federal strikebreakers tipped the scales in the hard-fought battles of the time, many of which escalated into general strikes, and the workers were driven back in defeat. But united struggle against the bosses had been launched, and less than a decade later the workers movement had taken up the fight for an eight-hour day.

In the course of this struggle, workers in Chicago amassed at Haymarket Square in early May of 1886. The protest was just winding down when a bomb went off, likely planted by a provocateur. The cops opened fire on the workers, killing one and wounding many. The government’s response was to frame up eight workers, who were sympathetic to anarchist views, on charges of murder. They were tried and convicted, not for the bombing but for their agitation against the employers. Four were hanged, one committed suicide, three were finally pardoned in 1891.

The period from the turn of the century to America's entry into World War I was one of intense social struggle; militant strikes were more numerous than at any time since. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW—the Wobblies) led union organizing drives, anti-lynching campaigns and a free speech movement. The level of struggle meant more frequent arrests, which gave rise to the need for defense of the class and individuals. The left and most labor currents and organizations rallied to the defense of victims of the class war. Non-sectarian defense was the rule of the day. The Wobbly slogan, "an injury to one is an injury to all," was taken to heart by the vast majority of the workers.

This was Cannon's training ground. One of his heroes was Big Bill Haywood, who conceived the ILD with Cannon in Moscow in 1925. As Cannon said, the history of the ILD is "the story of the projection of Bill Haywood's influence—through me and my associates—into the movement from which he was exiled, an influence for simple honesty and good will and genuine non-partisan solidarity toward all the prisoners of the class war in America."

Big Bill Haywood came from the Western Federation of Miners, one of the most combative unions this country has ever produced. The preamble to their constitution was a series of six points, beginning, "We hold that there is a class struggle in society and that this struggle is caused by economic conditions." It goes on to note, "We hold that the class struggle will continue until the producer is recognized as the sole master of his product," and it asserts that the working class and it alone can and must achieve its own emancipation. It ends, "we, the wage slaves...have associated in the Western Federation of Miners."

Not all labor organizations of the time had this class-struggle perspective. Contrast the tract of Samuel Rompers' American Federation of Labor (AFL), "Labor's Bill of Grievances," which he sent to the president and Congress in 1908:

"We present these grievances to your attention because we have long, patiently and in vain waited for redress.

There is not any matter of which we have complained but for which we nave in an honorable and lawful manner submitted remedies. The remedies for these grievances proposed by labor are in line with fundamental law, and with progress and development made necessary by changed industrial conditions."

The IWW, whose constitution began, "The working class and the employing class have nothing in common," was founded in 1905. Haywood was an initiator and one of its most aggressive and influential organizers. As a result of that and his open socialist beliefs, in 1906 he, along with George Pettibone and Charles Moyer, were arrested for the bombing murder of ex-governor Frank Steunenberg of Idaho (the nemesis of the combative Coeur d'Alene miners). The three were kidnapped from Colorado, put on a military train and taken to Idaho.

The Western Federation of Miners and the IWW launched a tremendous defense movement for the three during the 18 months they were waiting to be tried for their lives. Everyone from the anarchists to the AFL participated. Demonstrations of 50,000 and more were organized all across the country. It was this case that brought James Cannon to political consciousness.

The case was important internationally, too. While they were in jail, Maxim Gorky came to New York and sent a telegram to the three with greetings from the Russian workers. Haywood wired back that their imprisonment was an expression of the class struggle which was the same in America as in Russia and in all other capitalist countries.

On a less friendly note, Teddy Roosevelt, then president of America, publicly declared the three "undesirable citizens." Haywood responded that the laws of the country held they were innocent until proven guilty and that a man in Roosevelt's position should be the last to judge them until the case was decided in court.

The Socialist Party (founded in 1901) also rallied to the defense. While in jail, Haywood was nominated as the party's candidate for governor of Colorado and got 16,000 votes. The leader of the SP, Eugene Debs, wrote his famous "Arouse, Ye Slaves" for the SP's Appeal to Reason:

"If they attempt to murder Moyer, Haywood and their brothers, a million revolutionists, at least, will meet them with guns.... Let them dare to execute their devilish plot and every state in this Union will resound with the tramp of revolution....
"Get ready, comrades, for action!... A special revolutionary convention of the proletariat...would be in order, and, if extreme measures are required, a general strike could be ordered and industry paralyzed as a preliminary to a general uprising."

Haywood's trial began in May of 1907. It was Clarence Darrow for the defense and the infamous Senator William E. Borah for the frame-up (prosecution). That this was a political trial was clear to everybody. The prosecution, for example, introduced into evidence issues of the anarchist journal Alarm from 1886, when Haymarket martyr Albert Parsons was its editor. Haywood thought that Dar-row's summary to the jury in his case was the best effort Darrow ever made in the courtroom. But Haywood also got a bit exasperated with his lawyer. In his autobiography, he tells the story of Darrow coming to jail depressed and worried. The defendants would always try to get him to lighten up. Finally Pettibone got tired of this and told Darrow they knew it would be really hard on him to lose this great case with all its national and international attention, but, hey! he said, "You know it's us fellows that have to be hanged!"

Every day of the trial the defense committee packed the courtroom with what Haywood called "a labor jury of Socialists and union men." This is a practice we proudly follow today. On the stand, Haywood told the story of the Western Federation of Miners and its battles against the bosses, putting them on trial. He refused to be intimidated by Senator Borah. When Borah asked whether Haywood had said that Governor Steunenberg should be exterminated, Haywood replied that to the best of his remembrance, he said he should be "eliminated."

On June 28 Haywood was acquitted. Soon thereafter, so were his comrades. At a Chicago rally organized to greet him upon his release, he told the crowd of 200,000, "We owe our lives to your solidarity." Haywood knew that innocence was not enough. It is that kind of solidarity we are seeking to mobilize today for Mumia Abu-Jamal.

The Labor Movement and World War I

Haywood was elected to the National Executive Committee of the Socialist Party in 1908, during its most left-wing period. In 1910, he was one of the party's delegates to the Socialist Congress of the Second International in Copenhagen. Shortly after, the SP moved to the right, and in 1912 (the year Debs polled nearly a million votes in his campaign for president) a number of leftists, including the young Jim Cannon, left the Socialist Party. A year later, when Haywood was purged from the executive board, there was another mass exodus.

The IWW, in which Haywood and Cannon remained active, expanded the scope of its activities. This was the period of the free speech movement and anti-lynching ' campaigns. One Wobbly pamphlet, "Justice for the Negro: How He Can Get It," discusses the question of integrated struggle and how to stop lynchings:

"The workers of every race and nationality must join in one common group against their one common enemy—the employers—so as to be "able to defend themselves and one another. Protection for the working class lies in complete solidarity of the workers, without regard to race, creed, sex or color. 'One Enemy—One Union!' must be their watchword."

They almost got it right: as syndicalists, they didn't understand the need for a vanguard party to fight for a revolutionary program.

With the beginning of World War I and preparations for U.S. involvement, the government declared political war on the IWW and the left. Thousands of Wobblies were imprisoned under "criminal syndicalism" laws—100 in San Quentin and Folsom alone. In response, the IWW adopted the slogan, "Fill the jails." It was a misguided tactic, but unlike many so-called socialists today, the Wobbliest had a principled position where it counted: they'd go to jail before they'd cross a picket line.

1917 was the year of the Russian Revolution. A month after that world-historic event, Haywood was back on trial in Chicago with some 18 other Wobblies. He was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in Leaven worth prison. In 1919 he was released on bail pending appeal and devoted his time to the IWW's General Defense Committee, launching a campaign to raise bail money for those in prison. When the Red Scare and the Palmer Raids began, Haywood learned that he was a primary target. So, as his appeal went to the Supreme Court, he sailed for the Soviet Union. A student of history, he had no illusions in "blind justice."

Cannon was also heavily influenced by the case of California labor leaders Tom Mooney and Warren Billings. In 1916, as America was preparing to go to war, Mooney and Billings were framed up for a bombing at a Preparedness Day Parade in San Francisco. The Preparedness Movement was a bourgeois movement of "open shop" chamber of commerce, right-wing vigilante groups, who were very serious about getting the U.S. into World War I. They went into Mexico to fight Pancho Villa as practice. The Preparedness Movement was opposed by labor, and in fact two days before the bombing there had been a 5,000-strong labor demonstration in San Francisco.

Mooney and Billings were convicted. Mooney was sentenced to hang, Billings got a life sentence. At first, their case was taken up only by the anarchists. The official AFL labor movement took a hands-off position. But when it became clear that they had been framed with perjured testimony, a "Mooney movement" swept the country.

The Mooney case had a big impact on Russian immigrant workers, among others. Thus the Mooney case was carried back to Russia, and in April of 1917 the Russian anarchists led a Mooney defense demonstration in Petrograd at the American consulate. Worried about Russia pulling out of World War I at that point, Woodrow Wilson personally interceded on behalf of Mooney and Billings. It didn't get them out of jail, but the effect of international pressure was not lost on Cannon.

In the U.S., the cops broke up Mooney defense meetings and arrested those present. The class-struggle nature of the defense movement, involving such actions as one-day strikes, was a felt threat to the ruling class, especially in the face of a war. In a conscious effort to dissipate this movement, the state commuted Mooney's death sentence to life in prison. In combination with the domestic repression following the war, this took the life out of the Mooney movement. Mooney and Billings stayed in prison for 22 years. They were released in 1939, and Mooney spent two and a half of the next three years in the hospital and then-died.

In his eulogy "Good-by Tom Mooney!" Cannon wrote:

"They imprisoned Mooney—as they imprisoned Debs and Haywood and hundreds of others—in order to clear the road of militant labor opposition to the First World War, and they kept him in prison for revenge and for a warning to others."

As World War II began, Cannon would find himself in the same position.

The Tradition of International Labor Defense

The parties of the Second International backed their own ruling classes in World War I, and the Bolsheviks fought for a new international party committed to the Marxist movement's call, "Workers of the World Unite!" In 1919, the leaders of the Russian Revolution founded the Third International, the Comintern, to build revolutionary parties which could take up the struggle against capitalist rule. 1919 was also a year of massive strike activity in the U.S. This wave of class struggle swelled the ranks of the Socialist Party, which then split in September. The most left-wing workers regrouped, giving birth to the American Communist movement, and Cannon was among them.

America in the 1920s was not a nice place to be. Warren Harding was elected in a landslide victory on the slogan of "Return to Normalcy." And "normal" was racist and repressive. His attorney general, A. Mitchell Palmer, launched a war on the left inspired by fear of the Russian Revolution, which resulted in massive deportations of leftists and jailing of American radicals. The young Communist Party went underground. 1920 saw more lynchings and anti-black pogroms than any time in recent memory. The Klan grew like wildfire, and the government passed anti-immigration legislation that would give Newt Gingrich and Pete Wilson wet dreams.

When it was clear that the IWW was for all practical purposes broken, many of its jailed members, including Eugene Debs, were pardoned. The Communists, however, remained in jail. The union movement took it on the chops as well, and by the end of the 1920s only 13 percent of the workforce of this country was unionized.

The 1921 Third Congress of the Comintern was held under the watchword "To the Masses." In the U.S., the newly formed party had been underground and could hardly make a turn to the masses. At the Comintern's urging, the Workers (Communist) Party emerged in December of 1921 with Cannon as its first chairman and main public spokesman.

By the time of the Fourth Congress of the Comintern in 1922, the tactic of the united front had been defined; the Fourth Congress detailed its application. The need for the united front grew out of the post-World War I ebbing of the revolutionary tide following the Russian Revolution. The offensive by the capitalists against the proletariat and its parties was forcing even the reformist-led organizations into partial and defensive struggles to save their very lives.

The slogan "march separately, strike together" encapsulated the two aims of the united-front tactic: class unity and the political fight for a communist program. The Comintern sought both to achieve the maximum unity of the working masses in their defensive struggles and to expose in action the hesitancy of the leadership of the reformist organizations of the Second International to act in the interests of the proletariat and the inability of its program to win against the ruling class.

The united front is a tactic we use today. Our call for labor/black mobilizations to stop the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal and abolish the racist death penalty has brought together many different organizations and individuals to save Jamal's life. At these rallies and demonstrations, we

have insisted on the right to argue for our program to put an end to racist injustice and capitalist exploitation through socialist revolution.

In line with the policies hashed out at the Third and Fourth Congresses, the Communist International founded an international defense organization, the International Red Aid. These events had a substantial effect on the young American party, and one of the direct results was the foundation in 1925 of the International Labor Defense (ILD).

Cannon's goal was to make the ILD the defense arm of the labor movement. Cannon wrote to Debs on the occasion of his endorsement of the ILD:

"The main problem as I see it is to construct the ILD on the broadest possible basis. To conduct the work in a non-partisan and non-sectarian manner and finally establish the impression by our deeds that the ILD is the defender of every worker persecuted for his activities in the class struggle, without any exceptions and without regard to his affiliations."

From 1925 to 1928, the ILD was pretty successful in achieving that goal. It established principles to which we adhere today:

• United-front defense: The ILD campaigns were organized to allow for the broadest possible participation.

• Class-struggle defense: The ILD sought to mobilize the working class in protest on a national and international scale, relying on the class movement of the workers and
placing no faith in the justice of the capitalist courts, while using every legal avenue open to them.

• Non-sectarian defense: When it was founded, the ILD immediately adopted 106 prisoners, instituting the practice of financially assisting these prisoners and their
families. Many had been jailed as a result of the "criminal syndicalism" laws; some were Wobblies, some were anarchists, some were strike leaders. Not one was a member of the Communist Party. The ILD launched the first Holiday Appeal. Of course, the ILD also vigorously defended its own, understanding the vital importance of the legal rights of the Communist Party to exist and organize.

Social Defense and Union Struggle

The ILD's most well-known case was the defense of Sacco and Vanzetti. The frame-up for murder and robbery of these two immigrant anarchist workers, who were sent to their deaths by the state of Massachusetts in 1927, grew directly out of the "red scare" of the early '20s. The ILD applied with alacrity the main lines of its program: unity of all working-class forces and reliance on the class movement of the workers. Thousands of workers rallied to their cause, and unions around the country contributed to a defense fund set up by Italian workers in the Boston area. But the level of class struggle is key to the outcome of defense cases, and the ILD's exemplary campaign proved insufficient to save the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti.

As the case drew to a close, one of the feints used by the state was to start rumors that Sacco and Vanzetti's death penalty sentence would be commuted to life without parole. This was designed to dissipate the Sacco and Vanzetti movement and prepare their execution. Cannon rang the alarm bells from the pages of the Labor Defender, rallying ILD supporters to mass demonstrations and warning them of the devious and two-faced nature of the bourgeoisie. Cannon had not forgotten the demobilization of the Mooney movement after his sentence had been commuted nor the living death that Mooney and Billings were enduring in their 22 years of internment.

This has significance for us today as we fight against the threatened execution of Jamal. Life in prison is hell. Think about the "life" of Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt), another former Panther, jailed for a quarter of a century for a crime the state knows he did not commit. While some call upon Pennsylvania governor Ridge to convert Jamal's sentence to life without parole, we demand the freedom of both these innocent men.

The ILD also worked in defense of the class as a whole. In 1926, about 16,000 textile workers hit the bricks in Passaic, New Jersey. Their strike was eventually defeated, but it drew sharp lessons on the role of the state and demonstrated for Cannon the absolute necessity for a permanent, organized and always ready non-partisan labor defense organization. Cannon wrote in the Labor Defender:

"Our I.L.D. is on the job at Passaic. Not a single striker went into court without our lawyer to defend him. There was not a single conviction that was not appealed. Nobody had to remain in jail more than a few days for lack of bail.... A great wave of protest spread thru the labor movement and even the most conservative labor leaders were compelled to give expression to it."

In 1928, the Trotskyist Left Opposition (including Cannon) was expelled from the Communist Party. The ILD remained under the control of the Communist Party and thus became subject to the zigzags of Stalinist policies throughout the 1930s, including the perversion of the united front from a tactic for class unity into an instrument for class collaboration and counterrevolution.

In 1929, Stalin declared the "Third Period," an ultraleft shift, the main tactic of which was to smash the Social Democratic and other leftist parties by creating what the Stalinists called "united fronts from below." The Comintern charged the reformists with "social fascism"; the real fascists were to be dealt with secondarily. In Germany, this policy contributed to Adolph Hitler's seizure of power— there was no united fight against fascism by the workers in the mass Communist and Social Democratic parties. This policy had an effect on the U.S. party and its defense work.

Legal Lynching in the American South

One result of the stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing Depression was that 200,000people made the rails their home as they moved from place to place looking for work. On 25 March 1931, nine black youths, ranging in age from 13 to 20, were riding the Memphis to Chattanooga freight train. Two young white women, fearful of being jailed for hoboing when the train was stopped after reports that there had been a fight with some white boys, accused the blacks of rape. Among the nine were Olen Montgomery—blind in one eye and with 10 percent vision in the other—headed for Memphis hoping to earn enough money to buy a pair of glasses; Willie Roberson, debilitated by years-long untreated syphilis and gonorrhea—which is important if you're going to be talking about a rape case; and Eugene Williams and Roy Wright, both 13 years old.

The group were nearly lynched on the spot. The trial began in Scottsboro, Alabama on April 6. Four days later, despite medical evidence that no rape had occurred—not to mention gross violations of due process—eight were sentenced to death and one of the 13-year-olds to life in prison. The Communist Party issued a statement condemning the trial as a "legal" lynching. That night, the campaign to free the Scottsboro Boys began.

Freedom was a long time coming. A series of trials and appeals all went badly for the defendants. In 1933, one of the alleged victims, Ruby Bates, recanted her testimony, but it wasn't until 1937 that four of the defendants were freed. Three more were paroled in the 1940s, and in 1948 Haywood Patterson escaped from Angola prison to Michigan, where the governor refused to extradite him. The last, Andy Wright, who had had his 1944 parole revoked, was finally released in 1950. The nine had spent 104 years in jail for a "crime" that never happened.

The ILD made the word "Scottsboro" synonymous, nationally and internationally, with Southern racism, repression and injustice. Their campaign was responsible for saving the Scottsboro Boys from the electric chair. As Haywood Patterson's father wrote in a letter to his son, "You will burn sure if you don't let them preachers alone and trust in the International Labor Defense to handle the case."

The CP's publicity was massive and moving. They organized demonstrations in Harlem and across the country, appealing to the masses to put no confidence in the capitalist courts and to see the struggle for the freedom of these youths as part of the larger class struggle. Young Communists in Dresden, Germany marched on the American consulate, and, when officials refused to accept their petition, hurled bottles through windows. Inside each was the note: "Down with American murder and Imperialism. For the brotherhood of black and white young proletarians. An end to the bloody lynching of our Negro co-workers."

In the South, the defense effort faced not only the racist system but the homegrown fascists of the Ku Klux Klan as well, which launched a campaign under the slogan "The Klan Rides Again to Stamp Out Communism."

The ILD's success in rallying the masses to the defense of the Scottsboro Boys happened despite their sectarian "Third Period" tactics. The ILD denounced the NAACP, the ACLU and most of the trade-union movement as "social fascists" and threw the "Trotskyite" likes of Jim Cannon out of Scottsboro defense meetings. But fascism was on the rise in Europe, and, seeking now to make as many allies as he could, in 1935 Stalin' declared the "Third Period" at an end. A Comintern resolution urged the Communist parties to form "popular fronts" with any and all for progressive ends. In the U.S. this meant supporting Roosevelt and abandoning the struggle to link the defense of black people with the fight against the capitalist system. You can imagine the surprise of the NAACP, who were now greeted warmly by the ILD as "comrades"! This comradeship did not extend to the Trotskyists. The Scottsboro Defense Committee was formed, and a lot of the life went out of the movement as the case dragged on.

Cannon and his party, the Communist League of America, supported the efforts of the ILD to free the Scottsboro Boys. The Trotskyists insisted on the importance of an integrated movement to fight in their defense. Cannon pointed out that it was wrong to view the Scottsboro case solely as a "Negro issue" and agitated in the pages of the Militant for the organization of white workers around the case.
When Clarence Darrow refused to work on the case unless the ILD withdrew because he didn't like its agitation methods, Cannon wrote:

"The ILD was absolutely right in rejecting the presumptuous demands of Darrow and Hays, and the Scottsboro prisoners showed wisdom in supporting the stand of their defense organization. Any other course would have signified an end to the fight to organize the protest of the masses against the legal lynching; and with that would have ended any real hope to save the boys and restore their freedom."

Darrow's big argument was: "You can't mix politics with a law case." Cannon replied:

"That is a reactionary lie. It is father to the poisonous doctrine that a labor case is a purely legal relation between the lawyer and client and the court.... It was the influence of this idea over the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee which paralyzed the protest mass movement at every step and thereby contributed to the final tragic outcome. Not to the courts alone, and not primarily there, but to the masses must the appeal of the persecuted of class and race be taken. There is the power and there is the justice."

Communists on Trial
During the time that the Scottsboro Boys were languishing in their Southern jails, World War II began in Europe. The American workers had gone through the experience of one of the biggest union organizing drives in the history of the country, resulting in the formation of the CIO, and many of the new industrial unions had won significant victories. Communists, including the Trotskyists, Jim Cannon and the Socialist Workers Party, had participated in and led many of these struggles. War is great for capitalist economies—the destruction creates constant demand, and if you win, you get new markets to exploit. But to go to war, you have to regiment the population at home, and that begins with the suspension of civil liberties.

On the eve of America's entry into World War II, Congress passed the Smith Act, requiring the fingerprinting and registering of all aliens residing in the United States and making it a crime to advocate or teach the "violent overthrow of the United States government" or to belong to a group advocating or teaching it.

For public consumption, this act was billed as an antifascist measure, but the Socialist Workers Party (successor to the Communist League of America) and Minneapolis Teamsters were the first victims of the Smith Act prosecutions. Why did the head of the Teamsters Union, Daniel J. Tobin, the U.S. attorney general, Francis Biddle, and the president of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt, conspire to take away the First Amendment rights of a small Trotskyist party, a party with maybe a couple thousand members and influence in one local of one union?

Part of the answer is that the SWP was effective. The party had led some hard class struggle; it was their comrades who had provided the leadership for the Minneapolis strike of 1934 which led to the formation of Teamsters Local 544. Another part of the answer is politics: the SWP was forthright in its opposition to the coming war. This was a calculated government attack designed to cripple the SWP where it had the most influence in the proletariat as America girded for imperialist war.

In the courtroom, the SWP's goal was to put the capitalist system on trial, a tradition we carry forward in our own cases. On the stand, Cannon pedagogically explained the positions of the SWP on the questions of the day and Marxism in general. But the Minneapolis defendants went to jail for 16 months—sentenced on the same day that Congress voted to enter the war. The ruling class hoped that the party would be leaderless and pass from the stage. But at that time the SWP was still a revolutionary party with a revolutionary program and a collective leadership—so that hope was, in the main, dashed.

A number of CIO unions issued statements in defense of the Minneapolis defendants, as did numerous black organizations. The American Communist Party, however, issued the following statement: "The Communist Party has always exposed, fought against and today joins the fight to exterminate the Trotskyite fifth column from the life of our nation." In line with their support for Roosevelt and the war, the CP aided the government in the Smith Act prosecution of the SWP and aided the FBI in their persecution of the Trotskyists in the trade unions. The CP's disgusting collaboration did not prevent them from being prosecuted under the very same Smith Act, beginning in 1948. The Trotskyists, of course, defended the CP unequivocally against the government prosecution while criticizing the CP's Stalinist politics.

Years later the attorney general, Francis Biddle, apologized for prosecuting the Trotskyists. The bourgeoisie sometimes apologizes when its crisis is safely over. Fifty years after the end of World War II, the U.S. government "apologized" for the wartime roundup and internment of Japanese Americans, offering a token compensation to those whose homes were seized and livelihoods ruined. They say whatever outrageous trampling of civil liberties occurred was an "excess" or "wrong" and of course it will "never happen again." But the Reagan government drew up plans to intern Arab Americans in concentration camps in Louisiana after the bombing of Libya. Those camps are ready and waiting for the next time the bourgeoisie feels its rule is substantially threatened.

Class-Struggle Defense Work

The Partisan Defense Committee was initiated in 1974 by the Spartacist League with the goal of re-establishing in the workers movement united-front, non-sectarian defense principles in the tradition of Cannon's ILD.

This was not anticipated to be, nor has it been, an easy task. Unlike the ILD, which inherited the rich and principled defense traditions of the IWW and the personal authority of mass leaders like Cannon and Haywood, we were the immediate inheritors of a tradition of Stalinist perversion of defense work. In addition, the ILD was founded as a transitional organization, seeking to organize the masses for class-struggle defense work under the leadership of the party. By its second conference, the ILD had 20,000 individual members, a collective, affiliated membership of 75,000, and 156 branches across the country. The PDC attempts to conduct its work in a way that will make the transformation to such an organization possible.

The PDC program of raising money for monthly stipends for class-war prisoners is an example of an ILD practice to which we adhere. We currently send stipends to 17 prisoners, including Jamal, Geronimo ji Jaga and other former supporters of the Black Panther Party, victims of the FBI's murderous COINTELPRO frame-ups; Jerry Dale Lowe, a miner condemned to eleven years in prison for defending his picket line; and members of the MOVE organization locked up because they survived the racist cop assaults on their homes and murder of their family. We also follow the ILD's policy of strict accounting of finances and have modeled our journal, Class-Struggle Defense Notes, on the ILD's Labor Defender.

We take to heart Cannon's point:

"The problem of organization is a very significant one for labor defense as a school for the class struggle. We must not get the idea that we are merely 'defense workers' collecting money for lawyers. That is only a part of what we are doing. We are organizing workers on issues which are directly related to the class struggle. The workers who take part in the work of the ILD are drawn, step by step into the main stream of the class struggle. The workers participating begin to learn the ABC of the labor struggle."
Class-struggle defense is a broad category. We are a small organization and must pick and choose our cases carefully, with an eye to their exemplary nature. The case of Mario Munoz a Chilean miners' leader condemned to death in 1976 by the Argentine military junta, is a good example. This was the PDC's first major defense effort. Co-sponsored with the Committee to Defend Workers and Sailor Prisoners in Chile, the international campaign of protest by unions and civil libertarians won asylum for Munoz and his family in France.

Some of our work has been in defense of the revolutionary party. The Spartacist League takes its legality— the right to exist and organize—very seriously, and has been quick to challenge every libel and legal attack. The party successfully challenged the FBI's slanderous description of the SL as "terrorists" who covertly advocate the violent’ Overthrow of the government. A 1984 settlement forced them to describe the SL as a "Marxist political organization."

The PDC takes up not only the cases but the causes of the whole of the working people. We have initiated labor/black mobilizations against the Klan from San Francisco to Atlanta to Philadelphia to Springfield, Illinois, and mobilized sections of the integrated labor movement to join these efforts to stop the fascists from spewing their race hate.

In 1989, we broadened our thinking about how the PDC could champion causes of the international proletariat and offered to organize an international brigade to Afghanistan to fight alongside the forces of the left-nationalist Kabul regime against the imperialist-backed, anti-woman Islamic fundamentalists on the occasion of the withdrawal of Soviet troops. When our offer of a brigade was declined, we launched a successful campaign to raise money for the victims of the mullah-led assault on Jalalabad. To reflect this, we expanded the definition of the PDC to one of a legal and social defense organization. To carry out this campaign, it was necessary to expand the PDC internationally. Sections of the International Communist League initiated fraternal organizations in Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.

Currently we focus our efforts on Mumia Abu-Jamal and the fight to abolish the racist death penalty. Our actions in the Jamal case embody many of the principles of our defense work and the integral relationship of that work to the Marxist program of the Spartacist League, in this case particularly in regard to the fight for black liberation, which is key to the American revolution. This is a political death penalty case which illustrates the racism endemic in this country in its crudest, most vicious form and lays bare the essence of the state.

Throughout the very difficult period ahead, we will put all our faith in the mobilization of the working class and none in the capitalist courts. We embark now on exhausting every legal avenue open to Jamal, but we know the result hinges on the class struggle.

We hope you will join us in the fight to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, to abolish the racist death penalty and finish the Civil War. Forward to the third American revolution! •