Saturday, January 16, 2016

*****He Saw Starlight On The Rails-With The Irascible Bruce “Utah” Phillips in Mind

*****He Saw Starlight On The Rails-With The Irascible Bruce “Utah” Phillips in Mind

From The Pen Of Bart Webber

Jack Dawson was not sure when he had heard that the old long-bearded son of a bitch anarchist hell of a songwriter, hell of a story-teller Bruce “Utah” Phillips caught the westbound freight, caught that freight around 2007 he found out later a couple of years after he too had come off the bum this time from wife problems, divorce wife problems (that westbound freight by the way an expression from the hobo road to signify that a fellow traveler hobo, tramp, bum it did not matter then the distinctions that had seemed so important in the little class department when they were alive had passed on, had had his fill of train smoke and dreams and was ready  to face whatever there was to face up in hobo heaven, no, the big rock candy mountain that some old geezer had written on some hard ass night when dreams were all he had to keep him company). That “Utah” moniker not taken by happenstance since Phillips struggled through the wilds of Utah on his long journey, played with a group called the Utah Valley boys, put up with, got through a million pounds of Mormon craziness and, frankly, wrote an extraordinary number of songs in his career by etching through the lore as he found it from all kinds of Mormon sources, including some of those latter day saints.

For those who do not know the language of the road, not the young and carefree road taken for a couple of months during summer vacation or even a Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac-type more serious expedition under the influence of On The Road (what other travelogue of sorts would get the blood flowing to head out into the vast American Western night) and then back to the grind but the serious hobo “jungle” road like Jack Dawson had been on for several years before he sobered up after he came back from ‘Nam, came back all twisted and turned when he got discharged from the Army back in 1971 and could not adjust to the “real world” of his Carver upbringing in the East and had wound up drifting, drifting out to the West, hitting California and when that didn’t work out sort of ambled back east on the slow freight route through Utah taking the westbound freight meant for him originally passing to the great beyond, passing to a better place, passing to hard rock candy mountain in some versions here on earth before Black River Shorty clued him in.

Of course everybody thinks that if you wind up in Utah the whole thing is Mormon, and a lot of it is, no question, but when Jack hit Salt Lake City he had run into a guy singing in a park. A guy singing folk music stuff, labor songs, tarvelling blues stuff, the staple of the genre, that he had remembered that Sam Lowell from Carver High, from the same class year as him, had been crazy for back in the days when he would take his date and Jack and his date over to Harvard Square and they would listen to guys like that guy in the park singing in coffeehouses. Jack had not been crazy about the music then and some of the stuff the guy was singing seemed odd now too but back then it either amounted to a cheap date, or the girl actually liked the stuff and so he went along with it.

So Jack, nothing better to do, sat in front of guy and listened. Listened more intently when the guy, who turned out to be Utah (who was using the moniker “Pirate Angel” then, as Jack was using "Daddy Two Cents"  reflecting his financial condition or close to it, monikers a good thing on the road just in case the law, bill-collectors or ex-wives were trying to reach you and you did not want to reached), told the few bums, tramps and hoboes who were the natural residents of the park that if they wanted to get sober, if they wanted to turn things around a little that they were welcome, no questions asked, at the Joe Hill House. (No questions asked was right but everybody was expected to at least not tear the place up, which some nevertheless tried to do.)

That Joe Hill by the way was an old time immigrant anarchist who did something to rile the Latter Day Saints up because they threw he before a firing squad with no questions asked. Joe got the last line though, got it for eternity-“Don’t mourn (his death), organize!”                   

Jack, not knowing anybody, not being sober much, and maybe just a tad nostalgic for the old days when hearing bits of folk music was the least of his worries, went up to Utah and said he would appreciate the stay. And that was that. Although not quite “that was that” since Jack knew nothing about the guys who ran the place, didn’t know who Joe Hill was until later (although he suspected after he found out that Joe Hill had been a IWW organizer [Wobblie, Industrial Worker of the World] framed and executed in that very state of Utah that his old friend the later Peter Paul Markin who lived to have that kind of information in his head would have known. See this Joe Hill House unlike the Sallies (Salvation Army) where he would hustle a few days of peace was run by this Catholic Worker guy, Ammon Hennessey, who Utah told Jack had both sobered him up and made him some kind of anarchist although Jack was fuzzy on what that was all about. So Jack for about the tenth time tried to sober up, liquor sober up this time out in the great desert (later it would be drugs, mainly cocaine which almost ripped his nose off he was so into it that he needed sobering up from). And it took, took for a while.        

Whatever had been eating at Jack kept fighting a battle inside of him and after a few months he was back on the bottle. But during that time at the Joe Hill House he got close to Utah, as close as he had gotten to anybody since ‘Nam, since his friendship with Jeff Crawford from up in Podunk Maine who saved his ass, and that of a couple of other guys in a nasty fire-fight when Charley (G.I. slang for the Viet Cong originally said in contempt but as the war dragged on in half-hearted admiration) decided he did indeed own the night in his own country. Got as close as he had to his corner boys like Sam Lowell from hometown Carver. Learned a lot about the lure of the road, of drink and drugs, of tough times (Utah had been in Korea) and he had felt bad after he fell off the wagon. But that was the way it was. 
Several years later after getting washed clean from liquor and drugs, at a time when Jack started to see that he needed to get back into the real world if he did not want to wind up like his last travelling companion, Denver Shorty, whom he found face down one morning on the banks of the Charles River in Cambridge and had abandoned his body fast in order not to face the police report, he noticed that Utah was playing in a coffeehouse in Cambridge, a place called Passim’s which he found out had been taken over from the Club 47 where Sam had taken Jack a few times. So Jack and his new wife (his and her second marriages) stepped down into the cellar coffeehouse to listen up.

As Jack waited in the rest room area a door opened from the other side across the narrow passageway and who came out but Utah. As Jack started to grab his attention Utah blurred out “Daddy Two Cent, how the hell are you?” and talked for a few minutes. Later that night after the show they talked some more in the empty club before Utah said he had to leave to head back to Saratoga Springs in New York where he was to play at the CafĂ© Lena the next night.         

That was the last time that Jack saw Utah in person although he would keep up with his career as it moved along. Bought some records, later tapes, still later CDs just to help the brother out. In the age of the Internet he would sent occasional messages and Utah would reply. Then he heard Utah had taken very ill, heart trouble like he said long ago in the blaze of some midnight fire, would finally get the best of him. And then somewhat belatedly Jack found that Utah had passed on. The guy of all the guys he knew on the troubled hobo “jungle” road who knew what “starlight on the rails” meant to the wanderers he sang for had cashed his ticket. RIP, brother.

What Is to Be Done?-Origins of the Leninist Vanguard Party

Workers Vanguard No. 1079
27 November 2015
What Is to Be Done?-Origins of the Leninist Vanguard Party

The October Revolution in Russia in 1917 demonstrated that the leadership of a vanguard party is necessary for the proletariat to successfully sweep away the exploitative capitalist class together with its repressive state and establish workers rule. Lenin forged the Bolshevik Party into the instrument that was able to lead that revolution by waging years of sharp political struggle against Menshevik opportunism and Economism. The origin and development of the Leninist vanguard party were the focus of an educational presentation given by comrade Diana Coleman of the SL/U.S. at the Spartacist League/Britain National Conference in May. We present the talk below, edited for publication, which first appeared in Workers Hammer No. 232, Autumn 2015.
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Lenin’s What Is to Be Done? (1902) is an essential work for communists, as is, I would add, our pamphlet Lenin and the Vanguard Party. But neither one is easy reading. Generations of would-be communists have struggled through What Is to Be Done? It was first recommended to me and my friends by the Weathermen, a left-wing terrorist group that came out of the American SDS, Students for a Democratic Society. It was to address what they saw as our “Economism.” While I certainly didn’t join them I did take them pretty seriously. You may ask how I missed the chapter entitled, “What is there in common between Economism and terrorism?”, which stated that: “The terrorists bow to the spontaneity of the passionate indignation of intellectuals, who lack the ability or opportunity to connect the revolutionary struggle and the working-class movement into an integral whole.” This so describes the people I met.
In any case, our group, which was a New Left working-class organising project, after reading What Is to Be Done? instructed a couple of our people who were working in a Kellogg’s corn flake factory where the union contract had expired that any demand for higher wages or better working conditions was Economist. Therefore the only revolutionary demand was that the factory donate a hundred tons of corn flakes to the Black Panther Party “breakfast for children” programme. It says something about the tenor of the times that our people weren’t laughed off the factory floor, but it did kind of beg the question as to whether the “breakfast for children” programme was itself a liberal social work programme. Anyhow, for those of you who, like me, puzzled over what was wrong with “lending the economic struggle itself a political character,” hopefully this class will answer a few questions.
I will make the point that it is a common error to believe that What Is to Be Done? and the fight in 1903 that resulted in the division of the Russian Social Democrats (as all Marxists called themselves at the time) into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks were the final word on the party question. No, Lenin was not born a Leninist—his political views developed. Leninism, as a qualitative development of Marxism, arose in 1914-17 when Lenin responded in a revolutionary manner to the interimperialist World War I and the collapse of the Second International into hostile social-chauvinist parties. In August 1914, when the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) voted for war credits for the German imperialist government, it became clear that the Russian Bolsheviks weren’t just a counterpart of the SPD, only with better leadership. The Bolshevik party was a whole different animal than the SPD. It was only then that Lenin consciously generalised his views on the Leninist party, which were put into effect with the creation of the Third (Communist) International (or Comintern) in 1919.
So that’s why I recommend both What Is to Be Done? and Lenin and the Vanguard Party to get an overall picture of the party question. Further, as others who know more than I do will speak to, we must understand the Leninist conception of the vanguard party in order to understand and evaluate revolutionary syndicalists like James Connolly, who was executed by the British state for his role in the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin. Whether he would have been won to Bolshevism we will never know, but he was certainly the type that the early Comintern sought to win over.
The “Party of the Whole Class”
Organised Russian Marxism began in 1883 when Georgi Plekhanov broke from the dominant populist current to form the tiny Emancipation of Labour group in exile. During the late 1880s and early 1890s, the Marxist movement in Russia consisted of local propaganda circles that were educating a thin layer of advanced workers. But in the mid 1890s there was a major strike wave, and the propaganda circles turned to mass agitation. In part because of the imprisonment of more experienced Marxist leaders, the mass agitation quickly degenerated into reformism. This tendency was named Economism by Plekhanov, who was then hostile to it. Economism limited agitation to elementary trade-union demands, while passively supporting the bourgeois liberal efforts to reform tsarist absolutism.
In terms of international Social Democracy, the Economists were hostile to orthodox Marxism and were loosely associated with Bernsteinism in Germany. German Social Democrat Eduard Bernstein was the quintessential reformist who gave theoretical expression to the renunciation of revolutionary Marxism in favour of “evolutionary socialism,” premised on gradual reform of bourgeois society. Bernstein pronounced that for him the “movement” was everything, and the final goal of socialism was nothing. Sounds like a lot of modern-day reformists.
Bernsteinism was a minority trend in the German party, but in Russia the reformist Economists were the dominant tendency. Lenin and others in around 1900 had the difficult task of fighting to bring the party back to the revolutionary traditions of the old Emancipation of Labour group. Lenin and Julius Martov, who were the second generation of Russian Marxists, along with some of the old guard like Plekhanov, worked together using the newspaper Iskra as their organising centre to combat the Economists. Actually this was the first time there was really an organising centre for a Russian social-democratic party. Lenin was the organiser of the Iskra group and he ran the “Iskra agents” who went—clandestinely, because of the tsarist repression—into Russia. Using the arguments from the paper, the agents were supposed to win over the local committees and, if that didn’t work, split them.
In polemicising against Lenin’s successful splitting tactics, the Economists pointed out that the German centre did not seek to exclude the Bernsteinites—and that was certainly true enough. Before getting into the specifics of the arguments in What Is to Be Done?, let me say something about the question of the “party of the whole class.” At this time Lenin accepted in theory leading SPDer Karl Kautsky’s position of the party of the whole class. Now Kautsky and Rosa Luxemburg, who was a leader of the revolutionary wing of the SPD, didn’t believe that everyone in the working class would or should join the party. What they did believe was that all working class tendencies should be in one social-democratic party.
As I said, Lenin did not make a theoretical argument against this conception, but rather justified his splitting tactics by a series of arguments based on the particularities of the Russian party situation. The arguments were different at different moments: the Bernsteinites would at least follow discipline, but the Economists were incapable of accepting party discipline so there had to be a split; or the Russian party, unlike the German, was embryonic and could easily fall prey to opportunism, so therefore there had to be a split. Later Lenin argued that the Mensheviks were a petty-bourgeois tendency, not a working-class one, so that’s why they shouldn’t be in one party. This illustrates that, as the Spartacist tendency has often noted, it was part of Lenin’s strength as a revolutionary politician that his empirical political practice often preceded his full-blown theoretical understanding. Trotsky was different; he was not inclined to jump ahead of his theoretical understanding.
“Freedom of Criticism”— Cover for Revisionism
So What Is to Be Done? was written in 1902 as part of this struggle and to codify and explain the arguments. It contains the initial, basic blueprint for the construction of a party and a cadre; against Economism and all reformism, for a party of professional revolutionaries, for the party to be a tribune of the people and able to master politics in many arenas—basically for a programmatically based revolutionary party with the newspaper as a collective organiser. Sounds good—and we’re still struggling to accomplish what Lenin is talking about. I did wince slightly when I read in What Is to Be Done?: “The mere function of distributing a newspaper would help to establish actual contacts (if it is a newspaper worthy of the name, i.e., if it is issued regularly, not once a month like a magazine, but at least four times a month).” I thought about the struggle of the American section to produce Workers Vanguard as a biweekly.
Chapter 1 takes up “freedom of criticism.” Who can be against anyone’s right to criticise? But, as Lenin makes clear, the point is that “freedom of criticism” became the watchword of those who wanted to get away from the so-called “dogmatic, old fashioned” ideas of Marxism. Lenin explains that “‘Freedom of criticism’ means freedom for an opportunist trend in Social-Democracy, freedom to convert Social-Democracy into a democratic party of reform, freedom to introduce bourgeois ideas and bourgeois elements into socialism.” Lenin tells the opportunists to “Go yourselves wherever you will, even into the marsh.... Only let go of our hands, don’t clutch at us and don’t besmirch the grand word freedom.”
Then Lenin takes up the worship of spontaneity. Lenin did not oppose spontaneous struggle. Workers strikes and student demonstrations—that’s all to the good. What Lenin denounces is that under the Economists, “Instead of sounding the call to go forward towards the consolidation of the revolutionary organisation and the expansion of political activity, the call was issued for a retreat to the purely trade-union struggle.” Further, he denounces the idea that the watchword for the Social Democratic movement must be the low-level slogan “struggle for economic conditions” or “the workers for the workers.” When he discusses formulations like, “The virility of the working-class movement is due to the fact that the workers themselves are at last taking their fate into their own hands, and out of the hands of the leaders,” he comments on how gross this is given that the leaders were torn away from the workers by the cops and secret police and exiled or jailed. Another example of the Economists bowing to spontaneity is their claim that strike funds “are more valuable to the movement than a hundred other organizations.” My favourite is, as Lenin puts it, “That struggle is desirable which is possible, and the struggle which is possible is that which is going on at the given moment.” This actually is very similar to a phrase which is currently still used in the U.S., “the politics of the possible” or the “left-wing of the possible”—which, not real surprisingly, always turns out to mean that the American workers should support the capitalist Democratic Party, though critically, of course.
The real point of the whole discussion on spontaneity is that the working class spontaneously produces trade-union consciousness, which is a form of bourgeois ideology. As Lenin says: “There is much talk of spontaneity. But the spontaneous development of the working-class movement leads to its subordination to bourgeois ideology.” Communist consciousness is brought to the working class from the outside through the instrumentality of the revolutionary party. Reformists of all sorts have always disputed this, Tony Cliff being one of the many: it’s elitism, contempt for the working class...blah, blah, blah. We have made the point in various places that this is not a programmatic statement, but rather a historical analysis with implications for the organisational question.
The socialist movement and the trade-union movement came from different places. In general the socialist movement predated the development of mass industrial organisations of the working class and arose out of the bourgeois-democratic revolutionary currents. Comrade Joseph Seymour’s very excellent series “Marxism and the Jacobin Communist Tradition,” published in Young Spartacus (1976-79), takes up this history. We fight for a party that will be a fusion of declassed intellectuals and advanced workers imbued with socialist consciousness.
The Tribune of the People
Lenin’s point here is that out of trade-union struggle, even if very militant, comes the consciousness that one has to fight the boss, but not that you have to overthrow and expropriate the bourgeoisie as a class. Lenin says of socialist consciousness: “The sphere from which alone it is possible to obtain this knowledge is the sphere of relationships of all classes and strata to the state and the government, the sphere of the interrelations between all classes.” Trade unionism in and of itself does not challenge the capitalist mode of production, but only seeks to better the immediate conditions and wages of the workers in struggle with individual employers. It is still a form of bourgeois consciousness. For Lenin, socialist consciousness was the recognition by the proletariat of the need to become the ruling class and reconstruct society on socialist foundations. Anything less was trade-union consciousness.
Karl Marx captured the distinction between bourgeois trade-union consciousness and revolutionary consciousness when he wrote in Value, Price and Profit in 1865:
“The working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles.... They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerilla [sic] fights incessantly springing up from the never-ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto: ‘A fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work!’ they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword: ‘Abolition of the wages system!’”
So we can see where Lenin got his ideas from. This slogan is in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) preamble too, just not all that “other stuff” about a vanguard party.
Now, in the chapter on trade-unionist politics and social-democratic politics, Lenin has one of the most eloquent statements on reformism. He says:
“Revolutionary Social-Democracy has always included the struggle for reforms as part of its activities. But it utilises ‘economic’ agitation for the purpose of presenting to the government, not only demands for all sorts of measures, but also (and primarily) the demand that it cease to be an autocratic government. Moreover, it considers it its duty to present this demand to the government on the basis, not of the economic struggle alone, but of all manifestations in general of public and political life. In a word, it subordinates the struggle for reforms, as the part to the whole, to the revolutionary struggle for freedom and for socialism.”
He also takes up the slogan which I had so much trouble with—“lending the economic struggle itself a political character”—which he says means nothing more than the struggle for economic reforms. What I didn’t understand when I first read this is that when you generalise trade unionism into the political sphere, what you have is more bourgeois politics. Lenin says that what the Economists have in mind “is something far more in the nature of a trade-union secretary than a socialist political leader. For the secretary of any, say English, trade union always helps the workers to carry on the economic struggle, he helps them to expose factory abuses, explains the injustice of the laws and of measures that hamper the freedom to strike and to picket...explains the partiality of arbitration court judges who belong to the bourgeois classes, etc., etc. In a word, every trade-union secretary conducts and helps to conduct ‘the economic struggle against the employers and the government’.” Actually that sounds somewhat to the left of U.S. trade-union bureaucrats these days, but as times change so does the verbiage of these sell-outs.
Lenin goes on:
“The Social-Democrat’s ideal should not be the trade-union secretary, but the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; who is able to generalise all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all his socialist convictions and his democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat.”
In other words, he’s talking about the party as the tribune of the people that can lead the struggle for workers revolution and communism.
Now Lenin’s point on the need for the party to be the tribune of the people may seem obvious. After all, that is one of the things the International Communist League is well known for: in Mexico, our comrades defend gays; in Japan, our comrades defend the Burakumin (the caste of “untouchables”). But this is a lesson that took a lot of struggle to learn. You get a vivid picture of this in Jacob Zumoff’s new book, The Communist International and U.S. Communism, 1919-1929. Here you see the struggle that the Communist International had to wage to get the early American Communists to take up the question of black oppression. It was a real battle.
A Party of Professional Revolutionaries
Lenin takes up the amateurishness of the Russian Social Democratic movement, comparing it to a bunch of peasants armed only with clubs going up against modern troops. This situation was probably inevitable at first, but his criticism is that the Economists make a virtue out of this and, consequently, fight against any attempt to correct it. An interesting book that gives you a vivid picture of this period is called Twenty Years in Underground Russia: Memoirs of a Rank-and-File Bolshevik (1934) by Cecilia Bobrovskaya. (It’s also available on Marxists Internet Archive.) She gives a real picture of the amateurishness where she was active in Kharkov in about 1900:
“The workers’ movement was growing apace in Kharkov while we still groped for the organizational channels through which our work was to be carried on.... There were no definite forms of organization in Kharkov or anywhere in Russia, for that matter.... More often than not these committees were formed by some active revolutionary (or group of revolutionaries) in the city, who would establish strong contacts with the masses. He (or the group) would select a few capable comrades and these would declare themselves a committee.... After the committee (the directing body) came the periphery (the executive body) which consisted of several score of comrades. There was no proper division of functions either in the committee or the periphery. Thus, for example, the committee had no secretary. There were no distinct departments for organizational, propaganda or agitation work. Nobody was even appointed to look after the literary functions.... But each one of us had to be a propagandist, organizer, printer and distributer at the same time.”
Later you get a sense of how pleased she was to see some proper organisation brought to the political work:
“At the time of which I write (1902) the Iskra group not only had the paper Iskra which was regularly published abroad and widely distributed in Russia, but also a strong organizational apparatus. In accordance with Lenin’s plan there were, first of all, cadres of well-trained, responsible comrades, the so-called Iskra agents, who were sent by the Editorial Board of Iskra to work in the locals, in Russia, or were sent from place to place as necessity required. By means of systematic correspondence in secret code and personal visits they kept the center abroad constantly informed about their own work and the general state of the work in Russia.
“Besides these highly qualified agents who were successfully carrying out the principles and tactics of Iskra, there were professional revolutionaries, who were occupied only with such technical duties as transporting literature and conveying comrades across the frontier, procuring passports and other tasks of a similar character.”
This whole conception of a party of professional revolutionaries is counterposed to what you would see, for example, in the British Socialist Labour Party in the early 20th century (see “British Communism Aborted,” Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 36-37, Winter 1985-86).
Lenin also takes up the need for a nationwide newspaper as a collective organiser that provides the political line for the comrades as well as for the subscribers and readers. That was important then, when communication was not real easy, but it is still absolutely necessary even now. The newspaper provides the scaffolding for the party. Lenin emphasises that the revolutionary newspaper’s job is to explain the inseparable connection between unemployment and the whole capitalist system, to expose the police, warn that famine is imminent, etc., etc. Lenin makes fun of the Economists who argued that these articles provided not a single concrete demand promising palpable results. How many times have we all heard this: what are you doing in the here-and-now? Some arguments never change.
The Second Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (RSDRP) in 1903 was supposed to be the culmination of the Iskraist project to create a centralised party based on a comprehensive programme. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way. The Iskraists had a two-thirds majority and the Economists and the Jewish Bund were in the minority. But beneath the seemingly solid front of the Iskra group were very considerable tensions. There were the “hards” and the “softs,” initially represented by Lenin and Martov. As you well know, this tension exploded over the first paragraph of the rules which defined membership. Martov’s draft defined a party member as one who “renders it regular personal assistance under the direction of one of its organizations.” Lenin’s more stringent membership criterion was “by personal participation in one of the Party organizations.” Lenin’s narrower definition of membership was motivated by a desire both to exclude opportunists (who were less likely to accept the rigours and dangers of full organisational participation) and to weed out dilettantes who had been attracted to the Russian Social Democracy precisely because of its loose circle nature.
Lenin refused to see this as some incidental organisational dispute, but insisted that it be made the basis for majority (Bolshevik) and minority (Menshevik) representation on leading bodies. Again, I would say that this was an example of Lenin’s consistently revolutionary thrust leading him to break with opportunism well before he had generalised such a break theoretically. The logic of the factional struggle drove the Mensheviks to the right; gradually they replicated the politics of the defeated Economists and eventually fused with them. So there were essentially two organisations, one Bolshevik and the other Menshevik.
Lurking underneath all this was really the question of the character of the Russian Revolution. When reading What Is to Be Done?, it may not be immediately obvious that Russia then was ruled by an absolutist monarchy, based on a landowning aristocracy, and all Marxists agreed that the immediate tasks were essentially democratic—the overthrow of tsarism, land to the peasantry, etc. However, there was an assumption on the part of the Mensheviks that, given Russia’s social and economic backwardness, this democratic revolution would be led by the liberal bourgeoisie and would necessarily lead to an extended period of capitalist rule. Basically, this rejected a revolutionary proletarian perspective in favour of a parliamentary opposition under a capitalist government!
Lenin agreed that overthrowing tsarism was the immediate task, but he vehemently disagreed with the perspective that the Marxists should form a bloc with the liberal bourgeoisie. What he posited was an alliance between the revolutionary proletariat and the poor peasantry. As opposed to the Mensheviks, he was trying to draw a line between the proletariat, and the toiling masses in general, and the capitalist class. However, Lenin’s theory at this time, “the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry,” was flawed in that it posited a dictatorship, a state power, of two distinct classes, one of which—the peasantry—is a property-owning class.
Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution—which he first developed on the eve of the 1905 Revolution, when he was still organisationally aligned with the Mensheviks—dealt exactly with this impossible contradiction. As he said, it was only the proletariat organised in the factories that could satisfy the demands of the peasants and oppressed masses through doing away with capitalist property relations and establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat. In carrying out the democratic tasks of the revolution, the proletarian state, supported by the mass of poor peasants, must inevitably make “despotic inroads into the rights of bourgeois property” and thus the revolution would directly pass over to the implementation of socialist tasks. Obviously there is a whole other aspect to permanent revolution, which is the necessity for international extension of the revolution, but that part was not as controversial at the time, 20 years before Stalin began pushing the anti-Marxist idea of building “socialism in one country”—in backward Russia, no less. (For further on the above, see the ICL pamphlet The Development and Extension of Leon Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution, April 2008.)
The point here, however, is that Lenin’s algebraic formula (which he corrected in April 1917) did serve his main purpose of drawing a line against the Mensheviks and their tailing of the bourgeoisie.
Democratic Centralism vs. “Freedom of Criticism”
Until 1912, the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks were sometimes forced to exist as factions in the same party. Particularly after the 1905 Revolution, there was mass sentiment, especially among newly recruited workers, for reunification; there was also a need for political struggle and a sorting out process. In the rush of events, opportunists had joined the Bolsheviks and revolutionary elements had mistakenly joined the Mensheviks. For Lenin, the reunification represented both a continuing adherence to the Kautskyan “party of the whole class” and a tactical manoeuvre to win over the mass of raw, young workers who had joined the Social-Democratic movement during 1905. We cannot know how much weight Lenin gave these very different considerations. He probably didn’t look forward to or project a definitive split and the creation of a Bolshevik party, but by 1912 after many struggles, that you can read about in Lenin and the Vanguard Party, that was the result. He still at this point emphasised the Mensheviks’ petty-bourgeois character. By the way, Trotsky’s rotten role in the 1912 “August bloc”—through which he tried to bring together all the disparate anti-Bolshevik tendencies in the name of “party unity”—demonstrated his Menshevik sensibilities on the party question, something which he only really came to understand in 1917.
Now let me say a word about democratic centralism, the Leninist organisational principle, uniquely upheld today by the ICL, that enshrines the right of an oppositional minority to fight for contending political positions inside the party—including the right to form a faction to replace the existing majority—so long as all members defend the majority line in public. Obviously when you’re stuck in a joint organisation with a Menshevik majority or doing an entry into a social-democratic party, you’re for as much “freedom of criticism”—meaning the right of a party minority to publicly criticise the majority position—as you can get. As James P. Cannon, the historic leader of American Trotskyism, makes clear in his book, Speeches to the Party:
“Democratic-centralism has no special virtue per se. It is the specific principle of a combat party, united by a single program, which aims to lead a revolution. Social Democrats have no need of such a system of organization for the simple reason that they have no intention of organizing a revolution. Their democracy and centralism are not united by a hyphen but kept in separate compartments for separate purposes. The democracy is for the social patriots and the centralism is for the revolutionists.”
— “Leninist Organization Principles,” April 1953
Let me give another quote from Twenty Years in Underground Russia describing the trials of dealing with Mensheviks during a strike in Baku in 1904. Speaking of an agitator who employed Menshevik phraseology, Bobrovskaya says:
“Ilya’s fiery speeches before and during the strike breathed hatred of the Bolsheviks in general and of the Baku Committee in particular. He and his friends tried to keep the strike within the limits of a purely economic struggle and tried to keep out everything that was political. Our political struggle was the principal object of Ilya’s ridicule at the mass meetings. On such occasions his harangues would be punctuated with sneering Menshevik phrases such as ‘Bolshevik generals,’ ‘Bonapartism,’ and so forth....
“The demagogue Ilya was never tired at mass meetings of discussing minor questions like the provision of aprons, mitts, etc., by the employers, without touching upon the real significance of the strike. As a result, the more backward workers left these mass meetings without being enlightened as to the true nature of the struggle and went away determined to fight only for mitts and aprons. They would leave the meeting with a hatred towards the Bolsheviks for whom mitts and aprons were a minor problem and not the vital question.”
The strike was quite successful. Bobrovskaya says: “During the strike the Baku Committee tried to show the masses of workers the necessity of extended political demands both by oral agitation and by the distribution of leaflets which had been printed in our excellently equipped secret printshop. This agitation proved successful. The Baku workers became more class conscious during the strike.” After mentioning that many of the wives were fairly conservative and unhappy about the strike, Bobrovskaya goes on: “Even the women ceased to nag their husbands. They realized that the struggle had been worth while. The struggle had been a hard one, but the workers secured a shortened working day and an increase in wages. But most important of all, the workers began to be recognized as a power with which it was necessary to reckon.”
One more quote. Speaking about 1905 and the difficulties of getting trained agitators, Bobrovskaya adds: “These difficulties were eased somewhat in the days that followed, when, besides the official agitators, speakers appeared from among the masses themselves.... I remember a worker from the Rontaller factory who once came over to me and said timidly that he would like to speak. He wound up his long and fairly able speech with the following words: ‘We button makers are a big power. If we choose we can leave all Moscow without a button.’” Well, Moscow’s a lot colder than Los Angeles, so I guess that was a serious threat.
The Material Basis for Opportunism
The event which transformed Lenin from a Russian revolutionary social democrat into the founding leader of the world communist movement can be precisely dated: 4 August 1914. With the start of World War I the parliamentary fraction of the German SPD voted unanimously for war credits for the German government. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then, but at the time seeing major European socialist parties go over to this orgy of social chauvinism and supporting their own bourgeoisies was very shocking. As is well known, Lenin at first couldn’t believe it and thought the report of the SPD vote was just German war propaganda. The point is this: after the SPD’s great betrayal, revolutionary Marxists could no longer regard opportunism in the workers movement as a marginal or episodic phenomenon or as a product of particular historical political backwardness. At this point, Lenin began to realise in hindsight the implications and effects of his earlier actions and positions.
Lenin’s basic policy towards the war and the international socialist movement was developed within a few weeks. This policy had three main elements: 1) Socialists must stand for the defeat, above all, of their “own” bourgeois state. 2) The war demonstrated that capitalism in the imperialist epoch threatened to destroy civilisation. Socialists must therefore work to transform the imperialist war into civil war, into proletarian revolution. And 3) the Second International had been destroyed by social chauvinism. A new, revolutionary international must be built through a complete split with the opportunists in the social-democratic movement.
This last point was the most controversial one. Various types, from revolutionary social democrats Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht to revolutionary syndicalists, could agree with the first two points; it was the point about splitting the international workers movement into two antagonistic parties, one revolutionary and the other reformist, that created uproar even among those who opposed the war. So Lenin was forced to confront and explicitly reject the orthodox, Kautskyan “party of the whole class” position. He realised that the Bolshevik organisation had not, in fact, been built according to the Kautskyan formula. It had completely organisationally separated from the Mensheviks, in a formal way two and a half years before the outbreak of war and in practice long before 1912. The selection, training and tempering of the cadre in Lenin’s party was fundamentally different than in Kautsky’s. So he took the Bolshevik Party as the model for the Third International, the Comintern.
Another point: Lenin and Gregory Zinoviev, with whom he worked closely during the war years, had to deal with the fact that identifying opportunism as a petty-bourgeois tendency didn’t deal with the world-historic betrayal they had just seen from the German SPD. The SPD had deep trade-union roots, led massive unions, its leaders—Ebert, Scheidemann and Noske—had all been workers. Lenin’s analysis of the social basis for opportunism in the Second International can be seen in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, written in 1916:
“The receipt of high monopoly profits by the capitalists in one of the numerous branches of industry, in one of the numerous countries, etc., makes it economically possible for them to bribe certain sections of the workers, and for a time a fairly considerable minority of them, and win them to the side of the bourgeoisie of a given industry or given nation against all the others. The intensification of antagonisms between imperialist nations for the division of the world increases this urge. And so there is created that bond between imperialism and opportunism.... The most dangerous of all in this respect are those [like the Menshevik, Martov] who do not wish to understand that the fight against imperialism is a sham and humbug unless it is inseparably bound up with the fight against opportunism.”
So Lenin came to understand that reformism was not a petty-bourgeois tendency coming from outside the workers movement, but a part of the workers movement that had to be continuously fought. The labour bureaucracy with its pro-capitalist politics plays the role of a transmission belt for bourgeois politics into the labour movement. The fight to transform the working class from a class in itself—the object of capitalist exploitation—to a class for itself—conscious of its revolutionary goals, requires battling the false consciousness that ties the proletariat to its “own” bourgeoisie. Within the workers movement it is not only the trade-union bureaucracy which serves to reinforce the rule of capital but also the reformist pretenders to Marxism. I’m sure you have all had plenty of experience with these types.
But as Lenin and the Vanguard Party makes clear, the Leninist attitude towards the labour aristocracy is significantly different than towards the trade-union bureaucracy. In the imperialist epoch successful reformism is impossible. Thus whatever their background and original motivation, unless the leaders of the labour movement explicitly adopt a revolutionary course, they are forced by their social role to subordinate the workers’ interests to those of the bourgeoisie, i.e. they are the “labour lieutenants of capital.” In contrast, skilled, well-paid workers, the aristocracy of labour, while more susceptible to conservative bourgeois ideology, and often wretched chauvinist dogs, are not “agents of the bourgeoisie in the workers movement.” Like the rest of the proletariat, they must be won away from their treacherous misleaders.
Even more off base is the position adopted by many American New Leftists that all workers in advanced industrial countries are an aristocracy of labour and hence impossible to win to revolution. This was the position of the Weathermen, which I mentioned before. In the interests of comic relief, let me talk about my meeting with Bernardine Dohrn, a leader of the Weathermen who was then on the “Ten Most Wanted” list in the U.S. (I had seen her “Wanted” picture up in the local post office.) We were supposed to meet on Telegraph Avenue right near the University of California campus in Berkeley. I don’t think we could have picked a more public spot. Dohrn was late, and everyone was worried. She claimed that she had been up the street stealing a pair of earrings. Shoplifting when you were underground, how dumb! But it was all a part of the “outlaw” image.
Finally, we sat down to meet, and she talked about how the American working class was so bought off that the “dictatorship of the proletariat” wouldn’t work—they had to be put under a “dictatorship of the Third World.” She asked me what I was going to do when the North Koreans sailed into Puget Sound (near Seattle, in the state of Washington) to take over. Perhaps not answering this on a very deep level—I was kind of intimidated since she was a big shot—I just said that I didn’t think that was going to happen any time soon. She said that just showed what an American-chauvinist racist I was. So I didn’t join the Weathermen, and Dohrn and her hubby Bill Ayers eventually went back to Chicago, where they now hang out in liberal circles and know such unsavoury people as Barack Obama.
Organizational Principles and the Revolutionary Program
You see codified in the first four Congresses of the Third International Lenin’s generalisation of the Bolshevik experience: that the kind of hardened, programmatically based, democratic-centralist party was what the workers of all lands needed. That’s what the “21 Conditions” (adopted at the 1920 Second Congress) for joining the Communist International were about: programmatic agreement, keeping the opportunists out. That is what we are about: trying to build an international Leninist vanguard party on a hard programmatic basis through a series of splits and fusions. Of course, given the distance between us and our opponents there hasn’t been much there to even contemplate fusing with these days, but that will change.
In conclusion, I want to just refer you to Prometheus Research Series (PRS) bulletin No. 1, Guidelines on the Organizational Structure of Communist Parties, on the Methods and Content of Their Work. This is the first PRS bulletin we ever put out. In the introduction we say that it “appears to be the only complete and accurate English translation” of what we refer to as “one of the great documents of the international communist movement, standing as the codification of communist organizational practice as it was forged by the Bolsheviks and tested in the light of the world’s first successful proletarian revolution.” The Guidelines start off by making clear the revolutionary goals of the communist party. Then in the section called “On communists’ obligation to do work,” we very clearly hear the echoes of the Bolshevik/Menshevik fight over the definition of membership. It talks about the need for “day-to-day collective work in the party organizations.” It goes on: “Thus, in its effort to have only really active members, a communist party must demand of every member in its ranks that he devote his time and energy, insofar as they are at his own disposal under the given conditions, to his party and that he always give his best in its service.” Further: “In order to carry out daily party work, every party member should as a rule always be part of a smaller working group—a group, a committee, a commission, a board or a collegium, a fraction or cell.”
So we see Lenin’s more stringent membership criterion, “personal participation in one of the Party organizations,” not Martov’s looser criterion. This is an example of lessons learned and put into effect in the Comintern. And, I would add, the fact that we put out the only complete English translation of this document is one more testament to our commitment to Bolshevism and to providing revolutionary continuity.
When class and social struggle do break out, what is needed is a revolutionary party that has learned the programmatic and historic lessons of previous class battles and is able to lead the proletariat forward to state power. There are not too many of us, but there is no one else who has the same Marxist goals. So this is our job. On that slightly daunting note, I will conclude.

Murder And Mayhem In P-Town-Norman Mailer’s Tough Guys Don’t Dance

Murder And Mayhem In P-Town-Norman Mailer’s Tough Guys Don’t Dance

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Book Review

By Sam Lowell

Tough Guys Don’t Dance, Norman Mailer, 1984


The novelist/journalist/philosopher king Norman Mailer wrote many types of books, and covered a wide variety of themes. Types from pockets full of essays, non-fictional fiction, fictional non-fiction, advertisements for himself and flat out old-time journalistic commentary on iconic figures. His themes ranged from war to white hipsters to levitating the Pentagon to Marilyn to the moon landings and everything in between. Along the way he wrote a few, well, let’s call them whodunits since murder mysteries is not quite what he was into, wrote the book under review, Tough Guys Don’t Dance, under that imperative.        

The whole story-line here takes place in Provincetown, a town that the many times I have visited there in the past did not seem like the natural scene for murder and mayhem but maybe I didn’t look close enough. The protagonist here, Tim, Tim Madden, a guy who has all the symptoms of an Irish guy coming up the hard way, a guy who just because of who he was had to find out at some point in his life, hopefully early on, that tough guys don’t dance, and thems the rule, although he just happens to only be half-Irish. That has never stopped anybody from acting wholly Irish, it’s in the dominant genes, and moreover Tim is a writer to boot (although all through the book he may be thinking about writing, maybe even writing like a fiend like Mailer himself, but we never read that he had put pen to paper of late).

Hey, guess what during the period that this book was written back in the 1980s Norman Mailer, a writer, just happened to live in Provincetown so he took advantage of local knowledge to flesh out his scenario, a scenario that factors in some very strange doings (those things that I said I might not have looked at closely enough on prior visits) out at land’s end, out in that hook of land that the old time Pilgrims first spied in confronting the new land back in the day.        

Here’s the skinny and see what you think about our amateur unconscious detective, one Tim Mailer, oops, Madden. Tim was on a drinking/feeling sorry for himself binge after his snarly wife left him for parts unknown. This wife, Patty, whom he had “stolen” away from a guy he went to prep school, Wardley, with after she had latched onto him and his dough, Patty was that kind of woman, a hustling upstart cheerleader so yeah guys would part with their dough or whatever else she wanted for some grasping sex, one of those impossible Wasps with the three names and three roman numerals after their names. During his binge Tim ran into a couple of out-of-towners, Lonnie and Jessica, a little unusual in the off-season the time frame for the action in the book. To make a long story short during the binge he wound up drinking with them far into the night and the next morning woke up to a couple of new realities. The couple were both dead, the man by an apparent suicide and the woman as he would find out to his horror when he went to check out his marijuana patch in Truro beheaded by hands unknown (he also woke up to a car, Patty’s car, Patty’s everything, since he had no serious dough and she had gotten a very good settlement from old Wasp, whose front seat was splattered with blood and the proud possessor of a tattoo in the days before that personal statement symbol was “cool.” The problem with all of these scary facts is that he was not sure in his stupor that he had not done the killings. That hard fact is what the rest of the story hinges on.         

Now naturally no protagonist, drunk or sober, in a whodunit is going to be the fall guy, no way, because in this case Tim’s father, a reprobate full Irishman, didn’t raise any guy who was going to take the fall for stuff he didn’t do. So Tim had to get his best sleuthing brain working to get out of the hole that he, not only as a  writer, but an ex-con (dealing coke) has dug  for himself, or somebody has dug for him. Along the way as happens way too often in murder stories the bodies start piling up. All because of a busted real estate deal, hubris, thwarted love, including the “love that dare not speak its name,” the way they alluded to it in the old days today same-sex, or my favorite-the ghost of old fishing village P-town has come up to seek revenge on the modern day residents.

As for those bodies piling up you already know that Lonnie and Jessica have passed on (remember her in two parts one part her severed head found by Tim where he hid his stash the other part unknown then); wifey Patty who had left for parts unknown actually was hanging around but she too was wasted, beheaded  by hands unknown and (and shared a temporary resting place with Jessica where Tim hid his stash, at least her pretty little head did); a couple of townies who help Patty’s Wasp ex-husband and had to be gotten rid of because they knew too much or were loose cannons; that impossible three name three numeral Wasp who was Patty’s ex-husband: and, in the end a rancid rogue cop, or posing as a local cop (a DEA agent really) who was the lynchpin to the whole scenario. He was wasted by his wife, called Laurel although her name was Madeleine, and Tim’s ex-Mafia queen girlfriend. That’s six, count ‘em and Tim and the queen walk away free as birds. Hell, there are too many moving parts here for one small seacoast town in off-season. Don’t you think?

Of course, as with virtually any Mailer novel everybody and their brother or sister is having sex, hetero-, gay or bisexual, a whole identity politics crisis in the making, having all kinds of sex, missionary, oral or anal, you know that “love that dare not speak its name” business (and maybe some other stuff from the Kama Sutra who knows), so no wonder the conclusion I drew from this one was not some old wives’ tale about the spirits which haunt P-town seeking revenge for old time slights but hubris, pure human hubris. Still, unlike some other later, longer Mailer efforts, this one was a page-turner. Yeah, tough guys really don’t dance, just ask Tim Madden and his dad they’ll set you straight.        

*****Important Mumia Abu Jamal Update-Free Mumia

*****Important  Mumia Abu Jamal Update-Free Mumia


Click below to link to the Partisan Defense Committee Web site.


The legendary social commentator and stand up comic Lenny Bruce, no stranger to the American ‘justice’ system himself, once reportedly said that in the Halls of Justice the only justice is in the halls. The truth of that statement came home on Thursday March 27, 2008 as a panel of the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals voted two to one to uphold Mumia’s conviction.

The only question left is that of resentencing- the death penalty or, perhaps worst, life in prison without parole. I have not yet read the decision but we are now a long way away from the possibility of a retrial-the narrow legal basis for even appealing in the legal system in the first place. Know this- in the end it will be in the streets and factories through the efforts of the international labor movement and other progressive forces that Mumia will be freed. That is the only way, have no illusions otherwise, whatever the next legal steps might be.


Some facts about the case from the PDC (2006):

Mumia Is an Innocent Man
Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!
Abolish the Racist Death Penalty
Mumia Abu-Jamal has been on death row for nearly 24 years, falsely convicted of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. Mumia Abu-Jamal is innocent and mountains of evidence show this, including the confession of another man, Arnold Beverly, to the murder. All the elements of the capitalist “justice” system colluded in framing up this former Black Panther and MOVE supporter because he is an eloquent and defiant spokesman for the oppressed. The fight to free Mumia has now reached a critical juncture. Last December, the federal appeals court put Mumia’s case on a “fast track” for decision, marking the last stages of the legal proceedings. Both Mumia and prosecutors are appealing decisions made in 2001 by U.S. District Court judge William Yohn, who overturned the death sentence but upheld every aspect of Mumia’s frame-up conviction. The state is as determined as ever to execute Mumia and has appealed. He has been barred by the courts from presenting evidence that he is innocent. But the district attorney filed legal papers in the federal appeals court in April, opening its case with a venomous, lying statement to portray Mumia as a cop-killer who must be executed. In a short time, even as soon as six months, the court could decide what is next for Mumia: death, life in prison or more legal proceedings.
Mumia was locked up on death row in 1982 based on lying testimony extorted by the cops without a shred of physical evidence. The judge at his trial, Albert Sabo—known as the “King of Death Row”—was overheard by a court stenographer saying, “I’m going to help ’em fry the n----r.” Rigging the jury to exclude black people, the prosecution incited jurors with the grotesque lie that Mumia’s membership in the Panthers as a teenager proved he was committed to kill a cop “all the way back then.” The 1982 conviction was secured with arguments that the jury could disregard any doubts about Mumia’s guilt because he would have “appeal after appeal.” In nearly two decades of appeals, each and every court has rejected the reams of documented evidence of the blatant frame-up of Mumia. For over four years, Pennsylvania state as well as federal courts have refused to even consider the sworn confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, shot and killed Faulkner.
The execution of Stanley Tookie Williams by the state of California in December casts an ominous shadow. The legal lynching of Williams, which provoked an outcry nationally and internationally, signaled the determination of the U.S. capitalist rulers to fortify their machinery of death in the face of growing reticence in the population over how the death penalty is applied. Mumia Abu-Jamal, America’s foremost political prisoner, is the executioners’ number one target. California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made this clear when, in denying clemency for Williams, he cited the fact that Williams’ 1998 book, Life in Prison, was dedicated to—among others—Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Mumia’s case demonstrates what the racist death penalty is all about. It is the lynch rope made legal, the ultimate weapon in the government’s arsenal of repression aimed at the working class and oppressed. A legacy of chattel slavery, the death penalty is maintained in a society where the segregation of the majority of the black population is used as a wedge to divide the laboring masses and perpetuate the rapacious rule of capital. The murderous brutality of the racist capitalist system was displayed for all to see when thousands of people, overwhelmingly black and poor, were left to die in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Mumia’s appeal takes place in the context of the government’s assertion of its “right” to disappear, torture or even assassinate its perceived opponents, and to wiretap and spy on anyone and everyone. In the name of the “war on terror,” rights won through tumultuous class and social battles are being put through the shredder by the Bush administration with the support of the Democratic Party. The purpose is to terrorize and silence any who would stand in the way of the capitalist rulers’ relentless drive for profits and their imperialist adventures, like the colonial occupation of Iraq.
As Mumia’s case moves through the final stages of legal
proceedings, the fight for his freedom is urgently posed. The Partisan Defense Committee—a class-struggle legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League/U.S.—stands for pursuing every legal avenue in Mumia’s behalf while putting no faith in the “justice” of the capitalist courts. Through publicity and action, we have struggled to mobilize the broadest social forces, centered on the labor movement, to demand Mumia’s freedom and the abolition of the racist death penalty. As Mumia faced execution in August 1995, a mass outpouring of protest nationally and internationally—from civil liberties organizations and such heads of state as South Africa’s Nelson Mandela to trade unions representing millions of workers—succeeded in staying the executioner’s hand.
Today we face greater odds. But if undertaken through a mobilization based on the social power of the working class, the fight for Mumia’s freedom would be a giant step forward in the defense of all of us against the increasingly depraved and vicious rulers of this country.
Anatomy of a Frame-Up
In the eyes of the capitalist state, from the time Mumia was a 15-year-old spokesman for the Black Panther Party in Philadelphia in 1969, he was a dead man on leave. Then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover pronounced: “The Negro youth and moderate[s] must be made to understand that if they succumb to revolutionary teachings, they will be dead revolutionaries.” This policy was carried out under both the Democratic administration of Lyndon Johnson and his Attorney General, Ramsey Clark, and the Republican Nixon administration. Under the FBI’s “counter-intelligence” program known as COINTELPRO, 38 Panthers were murdered and hundreds of others framed up and railroaded to prison.
The 900 pages of FBI files the PDC was able to obtain on Mumia’s behalf, even though highly expurgated, make clear that the FBI and cops used any “dirty trick” in their mission to get him. His every move was tracked and his name put on the FBI’s Security Index, the 1960s version of a “terrorist” hit list. Even with the demise of the Panthers, the state did not call off its vendetta against Mumia. As a journalist known as the “voice of the voiceless,” Mumia’s impassioned defense of black rights continued to enrage them. The Philly cops particularly seethed over his sympathetic coverage of the MOVE organization, which was subjected to an onslaught of state terror.
Mumia was targeted for death because of his political beliefs, because of what he wrote, because of what he said. And in the early morning hours of 9 December 1981 at the corner of 13th and Locust Streets in Philadelphia, the cops finally saw their chance. Mumia was driving a cab through the area that night. He heard gunshots. He saw people running, saw his own brother and got out of his cab to help him. Moments later, Mumia was critically wounded by a bullet through the chest. Nearby lay a wounded police officer, Daniel Faulkner. The cops found their long-awaited opportunity and seized on it to frame up Mumia as a “cop killer.”
The prosecution’s case rested on three legs, all based on lies: the testimony of “eyewitnesses” coerced through favors and terror; a “confession” purportedly made by Mumia the night of the shooting that was such a blatant hoax that it didn’t surface until months later; and nonexistent ballistics “evidence.” In 2001, this frame-up was completely blown to pieces with Arnold Beverly’s confession that he was the man who shot Faulkner. In a sworn affidavit printed in the PDC pamphlet Mumia Abu-Jamal Is an Innocent Man!, Beverly stated:
“I was hired, along with another guy, and paid to shoot and kill Faulkner. I had heard that Faulkner was a problem for the mob and corrupt policemen because he interfered with the graft and payoffs made to allow illegal activity including prostitution, gambling, drugs without prosecution in the center city area.
“Faulkner was shot in the back and then in the face before Jamal came on the scene. Jamal had nothing to do with the shooting.”
Beverly stated that the second shooter also fled the scene. This is supported by a sworn affidavit by Mumia’s brother, Billy Cook, who testified that his friend Kenneth Freeman was a passenger in Cook’s VW at 13th and Locust that night. Freeman later admitted to Cook that he was part of the plan to kill Faulkner and had participated in the shooting and then fled the scene. This is further corroborated by the testimony of a witness at the scene, William Singletary, who said he saw a passenger get out of Cook’s VW, shoot Faulkner and then flee the scene.
At least half a dozen witnesses who were on the scene the night of the shooting saw, from several different vantage points, one or more black men flee. Police radio “flashes” right after the shooting reported that the shooters had fled the scene with Faulkner’s gun. Five witnesses, including two cops, describe someone at the scene wearing a green army jacket, which both Beverly and Freeman were wearing that night. Neither Mumia nor Cook wore a green army jacket: Mumia wore a red ski jacket with wide vertical blue stripes and Cook had a blue jacket with brass buttons.
Beverly said that Mumia was shot by a cop at the scene. This is confirmed by no less an authority than the state Medical Examiner’s office, whose record written the same morning as the shooting quotes a homicide officer saying that Mumia was shot by “arriving police reinforcements,” not by Faulkner. Other witnesses have corroborated Beverly’s testimony that undercover and uniformed police were in the vicinity at the time of the shooting, which Beverly assumed meant that they were in on the plan to kill Faulkner. One witness, Marcus Cannon, saw two undercover cops on the street across from the shooting. William Singletary also saw “white shirts” (police supervisors) at the scene right after the shots were fired.
The prosecution dismisses the idea that the cops would kill one of their own as an outlandish invention. Leaving aside that Beverly passed two lie detector tests, his account fits with the fact that at the time of Faulkner’s killing in 1981, there were at least three ongoing federal investigations into police corruption in Philadelphia, including police connections with the mob. Police working as FBI informants were victims of hits in the early 1980s. A former federal prosecutor acknowledged that the Feds had a police informant whose brother was a cop, just as Faulkner had a brother who was a cop.
A sworn affidavit by Donald Hersing, a former informant in an FBI investigation into police corruption, confirms that at the time of Faulkner’s shooting the word was out that the Feds had an informant in the police force. The commanding officer of the Central Police Division, where the murder of Faulkner took place, the chief of the police Homicide Division and the ranking officer at the scene of Faulkner’s killing, Alfonzo Giordano, were all under investigation at the time on federal corruption charges. These cops were literally the chain of command in the frame-up of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Giordano had been the right-hand man for Philadelphia’s notoriously racist police chief and later mayor, Frank Rizzo. From 1966 to 1970, Giordano was in charge of the cop “Stakeout” squad, which led the police raid on the Black Panthers’ headquarters in 1970. He was also the supervisor of the 15-month police siege of MOVE’s Powelton Village house in 1977-78, which resulted in nine MOVE members being sent to prison on frame-up charges of killing a cop. Giordano knew exactly who Mumia was. The senior officer on the scene, he had both motive and opportunity to frame up Mumia for the killing of Faulkner.
Giordano originated the claim that Mumia’s gun—the putative murder weapon—was lying beside him on the street. But according to police radio records, the cops were still looking for the gun some 14 minutes after hordes of police had arrived on the scene. Giordano arranged the identification of Mumia by cab driver Robert Chobert, who became a witness for the prosecution. Giordano was the central witness for the prosecution at Mumia’s pretrial hearing. But he was never called as a witness at Mumia’s trial. Shortly before the trial, he was assigned to a desk job. One working day after Mumia was convicted, Giordano resigned from the force. In 1986, Giordano copped a plea on federal charges based on his receiving tens of thousands of dollars in illegal payoffs from 1979 to 1980. He didn’t spend a day in jail.
Prosecution’s Web of Lies
The prosecution’s story is that two people were on the corner of 13th and Locust where Faulkner was shot: Mumia’s brother Billy Cook and Faulkner. They claim that Mumia ran across the street when he saw his brother being beaten by Faulkner. According to police and prosecutors, Mumia shot the cop in the back, the cop shot back at Mumia and then Mumia stood over the fallen cop and shot him “execution style” several times in the head. Even a close examination of the cops’ and prosecution’s own evidence gives the lie to this scenario. A look at the “three legs” of the prosecution’s case provides not only stark confirmation of Mumia’s innocence but clear corroboration of Beverly’s testimony.
The Prosecution’s Witnesses: Even with police and prosecution threats and favors at the time of the 1982 trial, no witness testified to seeing Mumia actually shoot Faulkner. Only one, Cynthia White, the prosecution’s star witness, testified that she thought she saw a gun in Mumia’s hand when he crossed the street. A prostitute working in the area, White claimed to have witnessed the events from the southeast corner of 13th and Locust. Yet the other two prosecution witnesses, as well as two defense witnesses who knew White, all denied she was at the scene during the shooting! Other prostitutes testified in subsequent court hearings that White alternately got police favors or was threatened by police in order to extract her testimony.
As for Robert Chobert, at first he told police that the shooter “ran away.” After further interrogation, he changed his story, claiming that Mumia stood over Faulkner while the shots were fired and that no one ran away. A cab driver using a suspended license while on probation for felony arson, Chobert was given favors by the prosecution in exchange for his testimony. He later admitted that he never saw the shooting. The third state witness was Michael Scanlan. He initially identified Mumia as the VW driver but then claimed that the shooter ran across Locust Street, which Beverly admits that he did. He also admitted that he did not know if Mumia was the man he saw.
Ballistics and Forensics: The prosecution claimed that ballistics evidence was “consistent” with Mumia’s gun being the murder weapon even while admitting that the “consistency” applied to millions of handguns. There is no evidence that Mumia’s gun was even fired that night. There was every opportunity to test Mumia’s hands, or the gun, for evidence that it had been recently fired. But according to police no such tests, which are standard operating procedure, were ever done! The Stakeout officer who claimed he picked up Mumia’s gun did not turn it over for more than two hours, providing more than ample time to have it tampered with.
The Medical Examiner’s report states that Faulkner was shot with a .44 calibre bullet, yet Mumia’s gun was a .38 calibre. Although the crime lab claimed that the main bullet fragment removed from Faulkner’s head was too damaged to test, the defense team’s ballistics expert denied this. A second bullet fragment removed from the head wound simply disappeared without a trace.
Evidence at the scene—bullet fragments, blood stains, the absence of divots in the sidewalk—refutes the prosecution claim that Faulkner was shot repeatedly while lying on the ground. The bullet patterns are far more consistent with multiple shooters, as Beverly testifies. A copper bullet jacket found at the scene was inconsistent with either Faulkner’s or Mumia’s guns, suggesting that a different gun was fired. Similarly, type O blood was found at the scene, but Faulkner, Mumia and Cook were all type A, suggesting that another person was present and injured. The angle of Mumia’s own wounds is impossible if he was shot while standing over Faulkner as the prosecution claimed. However, Mumia’s wounds are consistent with Beverly’s testimony that Mumia was shot by a cop at the scene.
The “Confession”: The frame-up’s final leg was the claim that Mumia, lying in a pool of blood at the hospital where he was taken for treatment, shouted out that he had shot the cop. Yet the police officer assigned to guard Mumia there reported that same day that Mumia “made no comments.” In reality, he was so badly wounded, with a bullet hole through one lung, and had been so badly beaten by police on the street and at the hospital, that he could not have “shouted” anything. The “confession” was manufactured by the prosecution at a roundtable meeting with cops two months after the shooting.
Priscilla Durham, a security guard, was the only hospital employee who backed up the cops’ “confession” lie. In 2003 Durham’s stepbrother Kenneth Pate swore that Durham said she was pressured by the cops to say Mumia confessed. Pate also said Durham heard Mumia say, “Get off me, get off me, they’re trying to kill me.”
Mumia Abu-Jamal has always categorically maintained his innocence. As he declared in a 2001 affidavit: “I did not shoot Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. I had nothing to do with the killing of Officer Faulkner. I am innocent…. I never confessed to anything because I had nothing to confess to.”
Mobilize Now to Free Mumia!
The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal is an object lesson in the class nature of the capitalist state. Its justice system is class- and race-biased to the core. The cops and courts who framed up this innocent man, the living tomb of the prison system in which he is jailed, the executioner who stands ready to kill—all are instruments of organized violence used to preserve the rule of the capitalist class through the forcible suppression of the working class and oppressed. Smashing this racist frame-up machine will require a socialist revolution that overturns the capitalist system. Demands for a “new trial” which have been raised by liberals, self-proclaimed socialist organizations, black nationalists and others have fed illusions that there can be justice in the capitalist courts. Those illusions demobilized a movement of millions around the world in Mumia’s defense.
The time is now to rekindle mass protest—nationally and internationally—on behalf of Mumia. Mumia’s freedom will not be won through reliance on the rigged “justice” system or on capitalist politicians, whether Democrat, Republican or Green. The power that can turn the tide is the power of millions—working people, anti-racist youth, death penalty abolitionists—united in struggle to demand the freedom of this innocent man. Crucial to this perspective is the mobilization of the labor movement, whose social power derives from its ability to shut down production. As we have stated since we first took up Mumia’s defense in the mid 1980s, what’s necessary are labor-centered united-front actions, generating effective protest across a spectrum of political beliefs while assuring all the right to have their own say.
The time is now to make Mumia’s case a rallying cry against the racist death penalty, against black oppression, against government repression. Raise your voice and organize now in your union, on your campus, in your community to demand: Free Mumia Abu-Jamal! Abolish the racist death penalty!
—Partisan Defense Committee, 27 May 2006


An Open Letter to Mumia Abu-Jamal Supporters-A Personal Commentary (April 2008)

The Partisan Defense Committee has passed "An Open Letter to All Supporters of Mumia‘s Freedom" to this writer. Those few who might not know of the torturous legal battles to free this innocent man can find further information at the above-mentioned Partisan Defense site. I make my own comments below.

Normally I pass information about the case of political prisoner Mumia abu-Jamal on without much comment because the case speaks for itself. The case has been front and center in international labor defense struggles for over two decades. However, in light of the adverse ruling by a majority of a federal Third Circuit Court of Appeal panel in March 2008 that affirmed Mumia’s 1982 conviction for first-degree murder of a police officer and left the only issue for decision that of resentencing to either reinstate his original death sentence or keep him imprisoned for life without parole I have some things to say about this fight.

Occasionally, in the heat of political battle some fights ensue around strategy that after the smoke has cleared, upon reflection, leave one with more sorrow than anger. Not so today. Today I am mad. Am I mad about the irrational decision by the majority of the Third Circuit panel in Mumia’s case? Yes, but when one has seen enough of these cases over a lifetime then one realizes that, as the late sardonic comic and social commentator Lenny Bruce was fond of saying, in the Hall of Justice the only justice is in the halls.

What has got me steamed is the obvious bankruptcy of the strategy, if one can use this term, of centering Mumia’s case on the question of a new trial in order to get the ‘masses’- meaning basically parliamentary liberal types interested in supporting the case. This by people who allegedly KNOW better. The bankruptcy of this strategy, its effects on Mumia’s case and the bewildered response of those who pedaled it as good coin is detailed in the above-mentioned Open Letter. Read it.

Today, in reaction to the Third Circuit court’s decision, everyone and their brother and sister are now calling for Mumia’s freedom. At a point where he is between a rock and a hard place. However, it did not have to be that way. Mumia was innocent in 1982 and he did not stop being innocent at any point along this long road. Freedom for Mumia was (and is) the correct slogan in the case. A long line of political criminal cases, starting in this country with that of the Haymarket Martyrs if not before, confirms that simple wisdom. Those who consciously pedaled this weak ‘new trial’ strategy as a get rich quick scheme now have seen the chickens come home to roost. And Mumia pays the price.

I would point out two factors that made a ‘retrial’ strategy in the case of an innocent man particularly Pollyanna-ish for those honest militants who really believed that Mumia’s case was merely a matter of the American justice system being abused and therefore some court would rectify this situation if enough legal resources were in place. First, it is illusory that somehow, as exemplified in this case, a higher court system would remedy this egregious wrong. Long ago I remember a lawyer, I believe that it might have been the late radical lawyer Conrad Lynn no stranger to political defense work, telling a group of us doing defense work for the Black Panthers, that all these judges belong to the same union. They do not upset each other’s work except under extreme duress.

Second, and this is where the ‘wisdom’ of the reformists about reaching the ‘masses’ by a stagest theory of defense work (fight for retrial first, then freedom) turns in on them. As witness the list of names of those who have signed the Partisan Defense Committee’s call for Mumia’s freedom, excepting professional liberals and their hangers –on, those interested in Mumia’s case (or any leftwing political defense case) will sign on just as easily for freedom as retrial. Thus, opportunism does not pay, even in the short haul. That said, Free Mumia- say it loud, say it proud.