Wednesday, November 05, 2008

*From The Pages Of "Women And Revolution"-"The Roots Of Bolshevism: The Russian Revolutionary Tradition"-A Guest Commentary

Click on the title to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the heroic 19th century early Russian revolutionary, Vera Figner, mentioned in the article below.

Markin comment:

The following is an article from the Summer/Autumn 1992 issue of "Women and Revolution" that has some historical interest for all those who wish to learn about our militant forbears. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of "Women and Revolution" during this Women's History Month.

The Roots Of Bolshevism:The Russian Revolutionary Tradition

W&R is pleased to present the edited transcript of a talk given by a member of our editorial board, Joseph Seymour, at an educational conference of the Spartacist League/US, held in the Bay Area on 2 May 1992.

The origins of this talk go back a few years to conversations I had with two comrades who were most directly and actively involved in seeking to build a section of the International Communist League in the Soviet Union. We talked about how wretched the present-day Russian intelligentsia was, both the pro-Wall Street self-styled "democrats" and the Stalinist self-described "patriots." Particularly disturbing was the depth of women's oppression and the pervasive¬ness of male chauvinism, not only in Soviet societyat large but even amongpeople who considered themselves communists, Leninists, would-be Trotskyists.

As we were talking, it occurred to me that the present-day Russian intelligentsia is not only profoundly alienated from Bolshevism, but from the many generations of Russian revolutionaries who preceded and culminated in Bolshevism. If the ghost of Nikolai Chernyshevsky, who was the greatest Russian socialist of the pre-Marxist era—a man who had a profound influence on Lenin—could return to his old intellectual haunts in the universities and editorial offices of Russia today, he would not be able to understand how anyone who called himself a democrat could want to transform Russia along the lines of Western capitalism. For him, to be a democrat meant to be for social equality. It meant to be for the rule of the lower classes in society. The Russian revolutionaries despised the bourgeoisie, both the Russian version and the Western version.

Chernyshevsky would be even more uncomprehending about how anyone could call himself a communist and yet be a Russian nationalist, a male chauvinist and an anti-Semite. Because to be a communist meant by definition that you were an internationalist, you were an extreme partisan of women's equality and liberation, and you welcomed Jews as equals and as comrades. From the 1870s onward, Jews played a prominent role in all of the Russian radical movements, all of the wings of populism and later all wings of Marxism.

And women played a far more prominent role in the Russian revolutionary movement than they did in any other country in the world. Women like Vera Zasulich and Sofia Bardina of Land and Liberty, which was the principal populist organization, were hard, tough, dedicated revolutionaries. From the shooting of the police commandant Trepov in 1878 to the assassination of the tsarist general Luzhenovsky by Maria Spiridonova in 1906, Russian women carried out some of the most spectacular acts of terrorism. After the
Revolution of 1905 a tsarist prison official in his own way recognized the equality of women: "Experience shows that women, in terms of criminality, ability, and possession of the urge to escape, are hardly distinguishable from men."

If we could get into a time machine and go back to the world of Chernyshevsky and Land and Liberty, we would have big fights about peasant socialism and the efficacy of terrorism. But at a deeper level we would feel ourselves among comrades. So what we are trying to do is to reinstill in Russia today its own great revolutionary tradition, a tradition which has been perverted and degraded or simply forgotten after decades of Stalinist rule and the pressure of Western imperialism on the Soviet bureaucratically degenerated workers state.

French Jacobins and Russian Decembrists

That tradition begins with the Decembrists, a group of revolutionary democratic military officers who sought to overthrow the tsarist autocracy in December 1825. But the Decembrists themselves begin with the French Revolution, which is the fountainhead of radicalism in the modern world. It is one of the ironies of history that the Russian army which the tsar sent into West Europe to crush the French Revolution in its Napoleonic phase became a transmission belt back into Russia for the ideals of that revolution. One of the Decembrists later wrote:

"During the campaigns through Germany and France our young men became acquainted with European civilization, which produced upon them the strongest impression. They were able to compare all that they had seen abroad with what confronted them at every step at home: slavery of the majority of Russians, cruel treatment of subordinates by superiors, all sorts of government abuses, and general tyranny."

So the Decembrists were a belated attempt to extend the French Revolution into Russia. One of their principal leaders had been the son of the Russian ambassador to Napoleonic France; he grew up in a milieu shot through with former Jacobin revolutionaries, among them Napo¬leon himself. Another prominent Decembrist, when he was stationed in Paris in 1815, went around to the leading intellectuals, among them Henri Saint-Simon, a pioneer
theorist of socialism. Saint-Simon attempted to convince this young Russian nobleman to introduce socialism into his homeland.

The most radical of the Decembrists, Pavel Pestel, had not personally been to France although he identified himself wholeheartedly with the French revolutionaries. But he went beyond Jacobinism. By the 1820s the ideas of socialism were beginning to gain currency among the European intelligentsia. Pestel attempted to combine a radical bourgeois-democratic revolution with elements of socialism. He proposed that the land be taken from the nobility and given to the peasants—half given to the peasants to farm privately, the other half to farm collectively so that no peasant family would go hungry. And Pestel called this the Russian Law. After the insurrection was suppressed, the tsarist authorities discovered the Russian Law among Pestel's private papers. Instead of publicizing it at his trial, they thought it was so inflammatory and attractive that they buried it in a secret archive. It did not see the light of day for almost 100 years.

An old reactionary general was on his deathbed when he heard of the Decembrist uprising, and it perplexed him. He said: before we have had uprisings of peasants who want to become noblemen; now we have an uprising of noblemen who want to become shoemakers. The Decembrists did not want to become shoemakers; they were not concerned with their future personal status. But this old reactionary understood something: that this was a movement of an elite, isolated from the peasant masses in whose interests they spoke and attempted to act. And this would be true of the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia throughout the 19th century. Initially this milieu consisted mainly of the sons of noblemen, later on the sons and daughters of what was called the "middle class," the children of tsarist bureaucrats or like Chernyshevsky, of Russian Orthodox priests. It was only at the end of the century, in the mid-1890s, that the Marxist wing of the intelligentsia acquired a mass base among the rapidly growing industrial proletariat.

The Decembrists were the first revolutionary bourgeois-democratic movement in Russia. They were also the last such movement. That is, they were the last movement that attempted to overthrow the tsar in order to remodel Russian society along the lines of contemporary West Europe or North America. After that, those people who wanted to transform Russia along the lines of Western capitalism did not call themselves democrats because they were not democrats; they called themselves liberals. They did not want to overthrow the tsarist autocracy. Rather they wanted to pressure the tsarist autocracy to modernize Russia from above. Their goal was a constitutional mon¬archy in which the monarch remained strong and the constitution guaranteed the rule of the propertied classes. As Chernyshevsky put it: "The liberals absolutely refuse to allow the lower strata any preponderance in society."

The First Russian Socialist Movement

Following the suppression of the Decembrists it took another generation for a new revolutionary movement to emerge. This was the so-called Petrashevsky Circle, a group of a couple of hundred radicals around Mikhail Petrashevsky. At that time the Russian Orthodox Church was sexually segregated, and in order to show his support for the equality of women and his defiance of the state church, Petrashevsky donned women's clothing and he attended a ceremony of the church exclusive to women. However he had forgotten to shave off his beard! He was approached by a policeman who said, "Madam, I think you are a man." Petrashevsky replied, "Sir, I think you are an old woman." The policeman was so flustered, Petrashevsky made his getaway.

Whereas the Decembrists had viewed West Europe in the afterglow of the French Revolution, a generation later Petrashevsky and his comrades only saw in West Europe an arena of the horrible exploitation of the lower classes by the propertied classes. They identified with the socialist opposition to Western bourgeois society and defined their goal as the application of Western socialism to Russia. In light of everything that's happening in Russia today, it's important to emphasize that this very first Russian socialist movement was implacably opposed to Russian nationalism in all its manifestations. They of course opposed the Slavophiles, who idealized Russia before Peter the Great and counterposed the spirituality of the Russian people to the crass materialism of the bourgeois West. But Petrashevsky and his comrades also opposed radical democrats like Belinsky who argued that the progress of humanity goes through nations, not by transcending nations. Against this view they argued, "Socialism is a cosmopolitan doctrine, which stands higher than nationalities...for socialists differing nations do not exist, there are only people."

The Petrashevsky Circle was the exact contemporary of the German League of the Just, out of which came the Communist League for which Marx wrote the Com¬munist Manifesto. Like Marx, Petrashevsky and his com¬rades believed that the spectre of communism was haunt¬ing Europe. And Russia was part of Europe. They looked forward, in the near future, to a pan-European socialist revolution, predominantly proletarian in the West, predominantly peasant-based in the East. They believed that the outbreak of the revolutions of 1848 in West Europe was the beginning of that development, and they immediately wanted to get in on the act. They started discussing how they were actually going to overthrow the tsar. But before they got very far, the tsarist authorities simply crushed them. Nicholas I was panicked in his own way by the spectre of communism and moved to destroy its meager reflection among a small section of the Russian intelligentsia.

The Origins of Populism

The revolutions of 1848 and the ensuing counterrevolutions by the combined forces of bourgeois and monarchical reaction are the great historic watershed of 19th century Europe. Among other things they gave rise to Russian populism as a distinct current of European socialism. Petrashevsky and his comrades had believed that socialism would come to Russia as part of a general European revolution. That vision was defeated on the barricades in Paris, Vienna, Rome and elsewhere.

A witness to that defeat was Alexander Herzen, the founder of Russian populism. Herzen had been a radical democrat who emigrated to West Europe, and he experienced the revolutions of 1848 in France and Italy. But Herzen remained optimistic about the prospects of revolution in Russia. If Russia was going to have a revolution in advance and independently of West Europe, however, it would have to be a predominantly peasant revolution because the industrial proletariat was minute. A German conservative, Baron Haxthausen, who had visited Russia in the 1840s, wrote a book saying that Russia didn't need a socialist revolution, it already had socialism in the form of the traditional peasant commune. After 1848 Herzen accepted this premise and argued that what would require a proletarian revolution in the West could be achieved on the basis of Russian rural institutions if the society were sufficiently democratized.

It is important to emphasize that while the Russian populists saw a different path to socialism in Russia, they had the same goal as Western revolutionaries. Thus Marx was always held in extremely high regard in the Russian populist movement. One of the early under¬ground populist groups wrote to Marx in London and proposed that he represent Russia as well as Germany in the leading council of the First International. The first language into which Capital was translated was Russian. It got through the tsarist censors, who figured that a book so dry and abstract as Capital could not inspire anyone to revolutionary passion, and it became an instant best seller. At the end of his life, Herzen stated that he had always been faithful to the ideas of Saint-Simon, who had an extremely technologically advanced conception of socialism.

Herein lay the fundamental contradiction of Russian populism. The populists projected onto the peasant commune not only economic egalitarianism, but social equality at all levels—the equality of women, a libertarian conception of sexual relations, a belief in materialism and the progress of science. They believed that the tsar-worshipping, priest-ridden, wife-beating Russian peasant could be won to the outlook of a Saint-Simon or a Marx. Such an illusion could survive only as long as the populist movement was exclusively a movement of the intelligentsia. And in fact the "To the People" movement marked the beginning of the end of Russian populism.

Revolutionary populism went through four distinct phases. The first phase was ushered in by the Crimean War of 1853-55 in which Russia was defeated by England and France. This defeat sent shock waves through the Russian upper classes. Tsar Nicholas I died in 1855 (some say he committed suicide out of a sense of shame). His successor, Alexander II, appeared to be a liberal, and in the late 1850s Russia experienced the tsarist version of glasnost and perestroika. Censorship was relaxed very considerably, and the tsarist government began talking about fundamental reforms of the system of serfdom.

Initially populist intellectuals like Herzen and Chernyshevsky demanded that the tsar expropriate the landed nobility and give the land to the peasantry. Some believed that the tsarist autocracy would achieve from above what the French Revolution had achieved from below. However, it soon became clear that the legal emancipation of the serfs was going to be done in a way which perpetuated the exploitation of the peasants at the hands of the landlords and the absolutist state. In the first years after the abolition of serfdom, the economic conditions of the peasantry were actually worse than they had been. When the Emancipation Edict of 1861 was read, it provoked scattered peasant uprisings; the peasants thought it was a counterfeit document by the local bureaucrats and the landlords. The so:called Emancipation Edict marked the beginning of revolutionary populism. The intelligentsia became convinced that in order to establish peasant-based socialism they would have to overthrow the tsarist autocracy and create a democratic republic.

The "Common Cause":
Women in the Revolutionary Movement

In the 1860s the first underground revolutionary organizations came into existence. These were easily crushed. Chernyshevsky himself was imprisoned and then exiled. Yet the tsarist repression in no way suppressed the revolutionary populist movement. Over the course of the next decade, a group of perhaps two or three hundred intellectuals became a mass movement of the intelligentsia numbering thousands of activists and perhaps ten times as many sympathizers.

A three-sided political struggle developed during this period within the Russian intelligentsia who opposed the existing social and political order to some degree: the Slavophiles, the liberals, and the revolutionary populists. In this struggle the populists won hands down, and by the early 1870s Russian universities were a bastion of revolutionary populism.

Perhaps the decisive reason for the victory of populism is that they were able to mobilize the vast reserves of the women of the educated classes. This movement literally liberated thousands of women from the shackles of the patriarchal family. A woman was not legally allowed to live on her own without the permission of her parents, or her husband if she was married. To circumvent this, the fictitious marriage became a sort of standard activity within the radical movement. Some young male student would be told by a friend that he knew of a woman of advanced views who wanted to go abroad to study medicine (a woman couldn't study medicine in Russia). And they would meet for the first time in front of a church; they would go in, get married; they would come out, and he would hand her her passport, of which he had control, and say, "Now you are free to go and study medicine and do what you like."

During the 1860s the Russian revolutionary movement acquired the participation of women to a far greater degree than their counterparts in Western Europe. These women at the same time consciously rejected Western-style feminism, that is, the idea of building a separate movement predominantly of women in order to pressure the existing government to pass laws in favor of women's equality. They saw women's equality coming about through what was called the "common cause," a total social revolution in which they would participate on an equal footing with male revolutionaries. Vera Figner, who became the principal leader of the terrorist People's Will in its final phase, recounts how she and her fellow Russian radical students at the University of Zurich viewed this question:

"Generally speaking, as a group the female students abroad were not advocates of the woman question and smiled at any mention of it. We came without thought of pioneering or trying to solve the woman question. We didn't think it needed solution. It was a thing of the past; the principle of equality between men and women had been achieved in the sixties."

Now of course what Figner meant was that it had been achieved within the revolutionary movement, not in Russian society at large. The Russian populists, called "Narodniks" in their own language, were acutely aware of the terrible oppression of women. At a mass trial of populists in 1877, the tsarist prosecutors denounced them for undermining the family. Sofia Bardina replied to this:

"As far as the family is concerned...isn't it being destroyed by a social system which forces an impoverished woman to abandon herself to prostitution, and which even sanctifies this prostitution as a legal and necessary element of every civilized state? Or is it we who are destroying the family? we who are trying to root out this poverty—the major cause of all society's ill, including the erosion of the family?"

"To the People"

In the mid-1870s the populist intelligentsia who were organized in Land and Liberty, which was an all-Russian, fairly highly centralized organization of the Narodnik vanguard, made a heroic 'attempt to overthrow what Bardina called the "social system." This was the "To the People" movement. Thousands of revolutionary intellec¬tuals flocked to rural villages trying to incite the peasants to rise up in a radical democratic and social revolution. The response was not favorable. One of the leading veterans of this movement reported:

"I noticed that any sharp sallies against the Tsar or against religion made an extremely disagreeable impression on the peasants; they were just as deeply perplexed by energetic appeals for a rebellion or uprising."

When the Narodnik intellectuals said that the peasants should have the landlords' land, they got a favorable hearing. But the peasants were unwilling to defy the state to achieve this end.

While the main body of Narodnik intellectuals went to the rural villages, some remained in the cities and sought to agitate and organize among factory workers. Here they were distinctly more successful. They were able to win over some advanced workers, such as Stepan Khalturin, who joined the leadership of Land and Liberty and set up small but significant allied organizations of workers.

One of the leading populist intellectuals involved in organizing the workers was Georgi Plekhanov. Initially Plekhanov accepted what could be called the conventional populist line: factory workers are simply peasants doing seasonal vyork in the factories, which had no effect on their sympathies and ties to the rural villages. But Plekhanov's own experience caused him to question this. In 1879 he wrote:

"The question of the city worker is one of those that it may be said will be moved forward automatically by life itself, to an appropriate place, in spite of the a priori theoretical decisions of the revolutionary leaders."

The "To the People" movement, which necessarily operated quite openly, exposed the Narodniks to massive state repression. This repression, combined with the frus¬tration that the movement had not achieved its basic aim, paved the way for the last phase of revolutionary populism: the turn toward terrorism.

In 1878 Vera Zasulich heard that one of her comrades had been almost beaten to death in prison. She put on her best clothes, walked to the prison, requested that she present a petition to the head of the prison, and when she went into his office she pulled out a gun and shot him pointblank. She did not however kill him. The tsarist authorities thought this was such an open-and-shut case that instead of trying her for a political crime before a special tribunal, they tried her on an ordinary criminal charge before a jury drawn from the St. Petersburg upper classes. And she was acquitted, because the jury found this a justifiable act of moral outrage!

The acquittal had a far more shocking impact than the shooting. Count Leo Tolstoy, the author of War and Peace, expressed the views of the educated elite when he called Zasulich's acquittal "a harbinger of revolution." The populist leaders drew the same conclusion: that if even an upper-class jury will acquit an overt terrorist, then a cam¬paign of terrorism would have enormous popular support. Marx and Engels in London similarly concluded that in the particular conditions of Russia a campaign of terrorism could incite a popular revolution.

The one populist intellectual who dissented was Plekhanov, who warned that the only effect of shooting Alexander II would be to replace him with another Alexander with another digit after his name. He wanted to continue to propagandize and agitate among the rural had been in prison and then in exile for almost 20 years. The tsarist regime had sufficient respect for the effectiveness of People's Will that they did in fact free the old man of Russian socialism. But in the following years Russian populism was basically broken, not so much by the tsarist repression as by demoralization. Neither mass agitation nor terrorism had seriously affected the tsarist autocracy, which emerged if anything even more reactionary than ever.

From Populism to Marxism

The 1880s were the low point of the Russian revolutionary movement. In 1889 a student in St. Petersburg, just ten years earlier a hotbed of revolutionary activism, reported: "There were few self-sacrificing participants who completely consecrated themselves to the cause.... All wanted to finish the course as soon as possible and then to live entirely within the law." Yet just a few years later, a new generation of Russian revolutionaries would enter the scene and finish off the tsarist autocracy
once and for all.

Most accounts of the transition from populism to Marxism within the Russian intelligentsia focus exclusively on Plekhanov and his comrades. It's important, however, to place this transition in its international context. During the 1870s Russia appeared to be the one country on the verge of a radical upheaval. The bomb-throwing Russian Narodnik seemed the model of the European revolutionary. When Zasulich fled to West Europe after being acquitted for shooting Trepov, she was greeted as a heroine not only by socialists, but even by many Western liberals who hated the tsarist autocracy. Yet a decade later the Russian populist movement had almost evaporated. In 1878, the same year that People's Will was formed, the Bismarck regime in Germany passed the so-called Anti-Socialist Laws aimed at breaking the power of the German Marxist movement. The leaders, Bebel and Kautsky, were driven into exile and many activists were imprisoned. Yet unlike the Russian populists, the Marxists became the mass party of the German proletariat despite the repression. So Plekhanov's influence among a new generation of Russian revolutionaries-was not merely because of the intrinsic brilliance of his polemics against populism, but also because he was a cothinker of the strongest, most effective socialist movement in Europe.

After the split in Land and Liberty, Plekhanov attempted to establish a small propaganda group called "Total Redistribution," but the tsarist persecution was so intense that he and his comrades were forced into exile. This compelled them to rethink their basic theoretical premises and strategic perspectives, and in the early 1880s Ple¬khanov made the transition from populism to Marxism. That transition contained two basic elements, one negative, the other positive. Instead of just idealizing it, Plekhanov looked at what was happening to the peasant commune, and he saw that since the emancipation of the serfs, the collective elements of the Russian peasantry were rapidly being undermined. A new layer of rich peas¬ants, known by the insulting term kulaks, or "fists," was increasingly dominating the life of the village because they had the money. That was the negative element. The positive element is that Plekhanov generalized from his own experiences in the 1870s that there was a fundamental difference between workers and peasants, that they were not just part of the narod, the "people," and that only the workers in their mass were receptive to the socialist program. He concluded that a socialist party in Russia must be based centrally on the slowly but steadily growing proletariat.

In rejecting the conception of peasant-based socialism, Plekhanov concluded that Russia at that point in its economic development could not have a socialist transformation of any kind. He conceived a theory of what later came to be called the "two-stage revolution." In the first stage the working class, guided by the socialist intelligentsia, would lead the overthrow of the tsarist autocracy. The liberal bourgeoisie, such as ruled in the West, would then come to power. In turn the workers would gain the political freedom to build a mass proletarian party and allied trade-union movement. Plekhanov also believed that a radical democratic revolution in Russia would enormously accelerate capitalist development, thus increasing the numerical weight of the industrial proletariat and creating the objective economic conditions for a socialist revolution in the future. Thus the program of the Eman¬cipation of Labor group, formed in 1883, stated:

"Present-day Russia is suffering—as Marx once said of the West European continent—not only from the development of capitalist production, but also from insufficiency of that development.

"One of the most harmful consequences of this backward state of production was and still is the underdevelopment of the middle class, which, in our country, is incapable of taking the initiative in the struggle against absolutism. "That is why the socialist intelligentsia has been obliged to head the present-day emancipation movement, whose immediate task must be to set up free political institutions in our country...."

Plekhanov's two-stage revolutionary schema was accepted within the Marxist movement until the beginnings of the Revolution of 1905, when it was confronted, as Plekhanov would have said, "by life itself." It was then challenged in different ways by Lenin's conception of the revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry and Trotsky's conception of permanent revolution.

"From a Spark a Flame Shall Be Kindled"

In the first decade of its existence, the Emancipation of Labor group was a mere handful of exiles. This reflected both the apolitical mood of the Russian intelligentsia and the continuing dominance of the populists over the diminished radical movement. Slowly Plekhanov began to influence a new younger generation of Russian intellectuals, personified by Vladimir llyich Ulyanov. According to his own account, the future Lenin was an apolitical youth until 1887, when his older brother was executed for participating in one of the last populist attempts to take the tsar's life. Alexander Ulyanov's execution radicalized his younger brother, who, however, did not follow the same path in a programmatic and strategic sense. In the early 1890s the young future Lenin consciously rejected populism in all its contemporary manifestations, and consid¬ered himself a Marxist.

By the mid-1890s, revolutionary populism was a thing of the past and what passed for populism had merged with liberalism. In the 1890s the only people who were calling for a democratic republic were the Marxists, called the Social Democrats. Thus Lenin could write at this time: "All true and consistent democrats in Russia must become Social Democrats." The Russian Marxists had achieved a position in some ways comparable to the revolutionary populists of a generation earlier. They had become the dominant current among that section of the Russian intelligentsia which was fundamentally hostile to the existing social and political order. They had also acquired a small layer of advanced workers. But they had to break outside the narrow circle. This was called the transition from propaganda to agitation. Plekhanov defined propaganda as the explanation of many complex ideas to the few, and agitation as the explanation of a few basic ideas to the many.

The attempt of the Marxist propaganda circle to involve itself in agitation among the workers happened to coincide with a major strike wave. As a result they got a far more favorable hearing and greater influence among the workers than they had initially expected. Lenin, Martov and the other leaders of the movement sought to direct the workers' economic resistance to the employer toward the ultimate goal of a radical democratic revolution against the tsarist autocracy. In a popular pamphlet on factory fines written in 1895, for example, Lenin wrote:

"[The workers] will understand that the government and its officials are on the side of the factory owners, and that the laws are drawn up in such a way as to make it easier for the employer to oppress the worker."

The turn toward agitation incurred increased tsarist repression. Lenin, Martov and the other leaders of what were called the first generation of Russian Marxist "practicals"—that is, the Russian Marxists who actually organized the workers, as opposed to the older veterans like Plekhanov and Axelrod who provided the theoretical direction from exile—were arrested. The movement passed into the hands of younger people whose formative experience was their involvement in the mass strikes. They became so enthralled with increasing their influence among the workers that they decided to drop the demand for a democratic republic, which they argued was remote from the immediate concerns of the workers and was unpopular among the more backward sections who still had illusions in the tsar's benevolence.

Plekhanov denounced this tendency as "economism," which a colleague of Lenin, Potresov, defined as the Utopian notion of building an effective trade-union move¬ment under tsarist absolutism. Nonetheless in the late 1890s economism became the dominant current within Russian Social Democracy, both the underground circles in Russia and the exile organizations in West Europe.

In 1900 Lenin, Martov and Potresov were released from Siberia, where they had been sent into exile. They joined Plekhanov and his comrades in West Europe to form what was called the Iskra group. "Iskra," meaning "spark," was taken for their journal; it derived from a letter that was written 75 years earlier by the imprisoned and condemned Decembrists to their friend, the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. In justifying their actions, the Decembrists said: "From a spark a flame shall be kindled." In choosing this name the Iskra group was stating that the proletariat was and must be the heir to the tradition of revolutionary democratic struggle against the tsarist autocracy. The very name was an attack on economism.

Although Plekhanov was one of the towering figures of European socialism, it was Lenin who was the real driving force and principal organizer of the Iskra group. Its immediate goal was to wrest control of the movement from the still dominant economists. The Iskra group won rather rapidly, in part because Russian society was beginning to experience revolutionary ferment at all levels. Factory workers in large numbers spontaneously joined student strikes and protests, thereby giving the lie to the economist notion that workers would take to the streets only when their own personal livelihood was involved—a very narrow and degrading conception. The narrowness of the economist perspective was discredited even among the economists themselves.

For Lenin, the leadership of the movement was only the first step. The second and decisive step was to cohere the localized propaganda circles into a centralized party with a clearly defined program, strategic perspective and leadership. Describing the need for a such a party in his principal work of the Iskra period, What Is To Be Done?, Lenin used a metaphor from construction:

"Pray tell me, when a bricklayer lays bricks in various parts of an enormous structure, the like of which he has never seen, is it not a 'paper line' that he uses to find the correct place to lay each brick and to indicate the ultimate goal of his work as a whole.... And aren't we passing now through a period in our party life, in which we have bricks and bricklayers, but lack a guiding line visible to all?"

To establish such a guiding line and a centralized party, the Iskra group called a congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party in mid-1903. As is well known, this congress ended in a deep split between the Bolsheviks (the majority, or "hards"), led by Lenin, and the Mensheviks (the minority, called at the time the "softs"), whose principal leader was Martov. At first it appeared that the split was over narrowly organizational grounds: whether to have a highly centralized party consisting of people who are committed revolutionaries, or, as the Mensheviks wanted, a looser party open to all workers and intellectuals who actively supported the movement in some degree. However, as Russia moved toward a revolutionary crisis it became increasingly clear that the difference over the internal nature of the party was linked to differences over the course of the role it would play in the revolution, in fact differences over the revolution itself.

The Permanent Revolution

In 1904 Russia engaged in a war with Japan over which country would control the Far East. The tsarist autocracy had expected that a wave of popular patriotic solidarity would dampen the growing social discontent. Instead the defeats of the Russian army at the hands of the Japanese further undermined the tsarist autocracy. "Bloody Sunday," the January 1905 massacre of peaceful workers who were petitioning the tsar, ignited a wave of mass workers strikes, peasant uprisings and military mutinies throughout the year. The Romanov throne tottered wildly, although in the end it did not fall. However, in the early months of 1905 the demise of the autocracy seemed imminent, and therefore the various factions and tendencies of Rus¬sian Social Democracy were forced to spell out much more concretely their conceptions of the course of the revolution and its aftermath.

The Mensheviks translated Plekhanov's initially rather abstract conception of a two-stage revolution into support for the liberal wing of the Russian bourgeoisie, organized in the Constitutional Democratic party or Cadets. The last thing that the Cadets wanted was a popular insurrection to overthrow the tsar. What they aimed at was to use the turmoil from below to pressure the tsarist autocracy to create quasi-parliamentary bodies in which the propertied classes would have the dominant place. In practice the Mensheviks' adherence to a two-stage revolution, in which the first stage meant the workers were supposed to march arm in arm with the democratic bourgeoisie against tsarist reaction, turned out to be a no-stage revolution because there was no democratic bourgeoisie with which to march.

Lenin recognized that all wings of the Russian bourgeoisie were anti-democratic and anti-revolutionary, that a radical bourgeois-democratic revolution therefore would have to occur against and not in alliance with the Russian bourgeoisie. This was the core of his conception of the revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. He projected that a workers party, supported by the mass of the peasants, would be able to purge Russia of all the feudal-derived backwardness, the tsarist autocracy, bureaucracy and the state church. It would eliminate the oppression of nationalities as well as of the Jews and end the exploitation of the peasants by the landed nobility.

This conception was clearly influenced by the Jacobin dictatorship in the Great French Revolution. Yet the ques¬tion remained: could the proletariat replay the Jacobin dictatorship in the Russia of 1905; was it possible to take economic actions which would harm the interests of large sections of the propertied class and at the same time not economically expropriate the bourgeoisie? Lenin insisted that this was not a stable form of government, but rather "only a transient, temporary socialist aim." He argued a' the time (although he later changed his view) that in thi absence of proletarian revolutions in West Europe, a rev¬olution in Russia, no matter how radical, could not go beyond the framework of capitalist economic relations.

The person who uniquely argued arthe time that th Russian Revolution could and had to go beyond bourgeois economic relations was Leon Trotsky. Trotsky had bef one of the younger leaders of the Iskra group; in the split he initially sided with the Mensheviks. He played prominent role in the Revolution of 1905, and in the course of that revolution developed what he called the doctrine of permanent revolution, in part based on Marx's writings in the immediate aftermath of the revolutions of 1848. In a preface which he wrote in 1921 to his writings on the Revolution of 1905, Trotsky summarized the doctrine of permanent revolution:

"This rather high-flown expression defines the thought that the Russian revolution, although directly concerned with bourgeois aims, could not stop short at those aims; the revolution could not solve its immediate, bourgeois tasks except by putting the proletariat into power. And the proletariat, once having power in its hands, would not be able to remain confined within the bourgeois framework of the revolution. On the contrary, precisely in order to guarantee its victory, the proletarian vanguard in the very earliest stages of its rule would have to make extremely deep inroads not only into feudal but also into bourgeois property relations....

"The contradictions between a workers' government and an overwhelming majority of peasants in a backward country could be resolved only on an international scale, in the arena of a world proletarian revolution. Having, by virtue of historical necessity, burst the narrow bourgeois-democratic confines of the Russian revolution, the victorious proletariat would be compelled also to burst its national and state confines, that is to say, it would have to strive consciously for the Russian revolution to become the pro¬logue to a world revolution."

In 1905 the permanent revolution did not go further than the beginnings of dual power between the proletariat and the tsarist autocracy. However, Russia's defeats in the first imperialist world war broke the back of the tsarist autocracy and paved the way for the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917, the greatest victory of the world pro¬letariat in history. Today that victory is being desperately threatened by the ascendancy of capitalist counterrevo¬lutionary forces.

But I would like to end this talk rather with a story. After the assassination of Alexander II the leadership of People's Will came into the hands of Vera Figner. It was she who negotiated with the tsarist regime for the release of Chernyshevsky, and she managed to hold together an underground group in Russia for the next two years. The police official who finally tracked her down had gained so much respect for her that he requested to kiss her hand before sending her to prison. But sent to prison she was, where she stayed for the next 22 years. She was only released in the amnesty of 1905. When she came out of prison she was a kind of Narodnik Rip Van Winkle; she could not understand or orient to the radically changed political and social conditions.

Nevertheless, she remained active within the left, where she was universally respected.
In 1917 many prominent old populists joined the counterrevolutionary camp and went into exile. Figner, the old Narodnik terrorist, faced with a fundamental choice of political loyalties, chose to stay in Soviet Russia. In the 1920s she devoted herself to writing her memoirs and to an organization called the Society of Former Political Prisoners, who were old populists who considered themselves loyal citizens of the Soviet Union. In that capacity she sought to induce populists who had emigrated to return to Soviet Russia and to serve the interests of the workers state. This eminently worthy organization was disbanded by Stalin in the early '30s.

Figner was still alive and kicking at the age of 89, living in Moscow, when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. As the Wehrmacht approached Moscow, the Russian authorities turned to Figner and said, "We will move you to safety further east." She refused, saying, "I am very old. I will die soon anyway. Save your efforts for people who are living, who still have a life to give to the cause." So the last member of the famous Central Committee of the People's Will died the following year in Moscow, a heroic and self-sacrificing revolutionary right to the end, and in that sense an inspiration for us all.

Monday, November 03, 2008

***Remember "Studs" Terkel- Pro- Working Class Partisan Journalist

Click On Title To Link To Studs Terkel’s Web Page.


Strangely, as I found out about the death of long time pro-working class journalist and general truth-teller "Studs" Terkel I was just beginning to read his "The Good War", about the lives and experiences of, mainly, ordinary people during World War II in Americaand elsewhere, for review in this space. A little comment is in order here for now. The obvious one is that many of the icons of my youth are now passing the scene. Saul Bellows, Arthur Miller, Hunter Thompson, Norman Mailer, Utah Phillips to name a few. Terkel was certainly one of them not for his rather bland old New Deal political perspective, as much as a working class partisan as he might have been, but for his reportage about ordinary working people. These are our people. He heard the particular musical cadence of their lives and wrote with some verve on the subject. Here I post an obituary from The Boston Globe for November 1, 2008. I will have much more to say later when I review his books.


Studs Terkel - the Pulitzer Prize-winning oral historian and radio host who heard America talking and presented an aural landscape of its democratic vistas as lively, expansive, and often as dark as Walt Whitman's - died in Chicago yesterday. He was 96.

His son, Dan, issued a statement saying Mr. Terkel died at home, the Associated Press reported.

Mr. Terkel, the economist John Kenneth Galbraith once wrote, "is more than a writer; he is a national resource." The psychologist Robert Coles hailed him as "our leading student of American variousness as it gets embodied in human particularity."

Mr. Terkel's interviews with a wide range of Americans on such topics as the Great Depression ("Hard Times," 1970), jobs ("Working," 1974), and World War II ("The Good War," 1984, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction) helped establish oral history as a popular and enduring genre.

Yet the designation "oral historian" never sat well with Mr. Terkel. "It's too much kind of a grandiose term," he explained, "I'm uncomfortable wearing it. My books aren't histories; they're memory books."

Mr. Terkel preferred a more companionable title for himself: raconteur. A raconteur, he once said, "is a teller of stories for public entertainment. I like that; it's a good description of what I am, I guess."

Those stories were told on the air, as well as in print. For more than a half-century, Mr. Terkel was a fixture in Chicago broadcasting. His interview program - originally known as "Studs Terkel Almanac" and then "The Studs Terkel Show" - ran from 1952 to 1997.

When Mr. Terkel retired from broadcasting, he became distinguished scholar in residence at the Chicago Historical Society. The society is a repository for some 5,000 hours of tapes from Mr. Terkel's radio shows and another 2,000 hours of taped interviews done for his books. Several hundred hours are available at

Mr. Terkel liked to joke about how important the tape recorder had been to his career. "Do I become most alive and imaginative when I press down the ON lever of my mute companion? I have a theory. I am a neo-Cartesian: I tape; therefore I am."

Despite this identification with his tape recorder (or perhaps because of it), Mr. Terkel often referred to the device as "the goddamn thing." Such dismissiveness was understandable. Among the interview subjects Mr. Terkel inadvertently erased or failed to record were actor Michael Redgrave, theater director Peter Hall, dancer and choreographer Martha Graham, and actor and comedian Jacques Tati.

"I don't know how a tape recorder works," Mr. Terkel once confessed.

Although audio technician never appeared on Mr. Terkel's resume, he did not lack for job titles. In addition to author and radio host, Mr. Terkel's jobs included actor, playwright, disc jockey, and journalist. The gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, whose first performances for predominantly white audiences were arranged by Mr. Terkel, told him he should have been a preacher.

"The way I look at it," he said of his interviewing, "it's like being a gold prospector. You find this precious metal in people when you least expect it."

Mr. Terkel, whose first book was "Giants of Jazz" (1956), an introduction to the music for young readers, likened his interviewing to a jazz soloist's improvising: "There aren't any rules. You do it your own way. You experiment. You try this, you try that. . . . Stay loose, stay flexible."

Along with looseness and flexibility, Mr. Terkel had another piece of advice: "The first thing I'd say to any interviewer is . . . Listen. It's the second thing I say, too, and the third, and the fourth. Listen . . . listen . . . listen. And if you do, people will talk. They'll always talk."

Mr. Terkel was being somewhat disingenuous. Much of that willingness to talk was special to him. He was the least intimidating of interviewers, with a famously warm and empathetic manner. As Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko said, "I could never imagine someone replying 'no comment' to Studs."

Such friendliness toward his subjects led to the criticism most frequently leveled against Mr. Terkel's books, their tendency to sentimentalize people and simplify complex issues.

Admirers as well as critics saw in that tendency the influence of Mr. Terkel's politics, which were very much of the left. (Blacklisted during the 1950s, Mr. Terkel was proud of having a 503-page FBI file.) Certainly, his populist methodology reflected his radical egalitarianism. "My turf has been the arena of unofficial truth," he liked to say.

Mr. Terkel's books include the words of the unknown as well as famous, poor as well as rich, inarticulate as well as eloquent: a class-blind democracy of the tongue.

"I'm looking for the uniqueness in each person," he said. "What was it like to be a certain person then? What's it like to be a certain person now? That's what I'm trying to capture."

Mr. Terkel's own uniqueness was never in doubt. A friendly biographer once spoke of his "orotund personality."

He cut a colorful figure: garrulous, exuberant, a character every bit as distinctive as the honeyed gargle that was his voice. Working into his 90s, Mr. Terkel seemed inexhaustible and inexhaustibly interested.

"Curiosity never killed this cat - that's what I'd like as my epitaph," he once said. "It's what gave me life; the older I got the more curious I became."

Part of Mr. Terkel's legend grew from his association with Chicago. Equally uncomfortable with the elitist East and the laid-back West, he personified the open, muscular ethos of the urban heartland. Appropriately enough, his best friend was another quintessential Chicago writer, the novelist Nelson Algren. Indeed, Mr. Terkel was as much a part of Chicago as Wrigley Field or the Loop.

"In a city with a population of 3 million, Studs must know 2,999,999," the writer Calvin Trillin once observed, "and the only reason he doesn't know the other one is they never happened to ride the same bus together."

Even Mr. Terkel's nickname sprang from his hometown: So great was his identification with Studs Lonigan, the hero of James T. Farrell's 1930s trilogy, a classic of Chicago literature, friends took to calling him Studs. By the time he married Ida (Goldberg) Terkel, in 1939, only she was calling him by his given name, Louis, a habit she never abandoned during the six decades of their marriage. She died in 1999.

Louis Terkel was born in New York on May 16, 1912. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Russia: Samuel Terkel, a tailor, and Anna (Finkel) Terkel, a seamstress. In 1922, the family moved to Chicago and ran a boarding house. Mr. Terkel would often cite the experience of listening to the establishment's highly varied clientele as to how he came to have such an appreciation for others' talk.

After graduating from the University of Chicago in 1932, Mr. Terkel attended its law school. "I'd read about the great Clarence Darrow, the defender of the guilty and the oppressed," he said. "I saw myself as some kind of heroic figure like that."

He quickly learned the law had more to do with torts than crusades. Still, Mr. Terkel earned his degree; but after failing the bar exam he abandoned the profession. He applied to become a fingerprint classifier for the FBI, only to be rejected. Years later, he discovered that one of his professors had warned the bureau, "His appearance was somewhat sloppy, and I considered him to be not the best type of boy."

He went to work for the federal government doing statistical research in Omaha and then Washington, D.C. In Washington, he took up acting, something he continued when he returned to Chicago to join the Federal Writers Project.

Mr. Terkel flourished as an actor on radio, tending to get cast as a gangster, he explained, "because of the low, husky menacing sort of voice I had." During World War II, he briefly served in the Army Air Force.

Back in Chicago, Mr. Terkel became host of a music program called "The Wax Museum." Music was always a great love of Mr. Terkel's, and his tastes were eclectic. A given show might include recordings by Duke Ellington, Lotte Lehmann, Benny Goodman, Mahalia Jackson, and Enrico Caruso.

With the blacklist preventing him from acting, Mr. Terkel took up on-air interviewing. A publisher, Andre Schiffrin, noticed his talent for drawing people out and urged him to do a book.

The idea appealed to Mr. Terkel. "A radio interview, you do it and it's gone," he once put it. "The ephemeralness, that's part of the attraction. But a book is forever."

Mr. Terkel's other books include "Division Street: America" (1967), "Talking to Myself" (1977), "American Dreams: Lost and Found" (1980), "Chicago" (1986), "The Great Divide" (1988), "Race" (1992), "Coming of Age" (1995), "My American Century" (1997), "Spectator" (1999), "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" (2001), "Hope Dies Last" (2003), and "Touch and Go" (2007).

"P.S.: Further Thoughts from a Lifetime of Listening" is scheduled for release this month.

© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.

Sunday, November 02, 2008


Click On Title To Link To July 2, 2009 "New York Review Of Books" Article Entitled "The Same-Sex Future" By David Cole That Gives An Update On This Struggle And A Capsule Of The Various Positions On The Issue.



Earlier this year the California Supreme Court held by a 4-3 vote that the prohibition against same sex marriage violated the California constitution. Needless to say, as has occurred in other locales like Massachusetts, the "social conservatives" there have attempted to overturn that decision by placing a proposition (Proposition 8) banning same sex marriages on the ballot for the November 4, 2008 elections.

Just as adamantly we oppose this measure. Vote NO with both hands on this one. Anyone even vaguely familiar with the politics of this space knows this is a "no-brainer" position that needs no further motivation as a simple measure in defense of democratic rights. Moreover, unless there is some supportable socialist candidate that I have not heard about on the California ballot (no, NOT Cynthia McKinney of the Green Party and certainly not the moribund Peace and Freedom Party) then this may be the only reason to go to the polls on that day. Do so.

Friday, October 31, 2008

In Massachusetts Vote NO on Question 1- No Repeal Of The State Income Tax


In Massachusetts Vote NO on Question 1- Repealing of the State Income Tax

For President- Republican John McCain-No. Democrat Barack Obama- No. Green Party Cynthia McKinney-No. Independent-Ralph Nader-No. And so on down through the offices to the local county commissioners and such. Come Election Day in Massachusetts on November 4, 2008 it would seem that there is no reason to go to the polls. Right? Not true. As usually is the case here there are some interesting ballot questions to select from. None, from a socialist perspective (hell, from a democratic perspective even) as important as the No vote on Proposition 8 (the gay marriage amendment) in California but important smaller issues nevertheless.

Vote No on Question 1- This the perennial repeal the state income tax proposition that the “no tax”- types try to get passed every few years. Usually this is spear-headed by know-nothings and those who just do not want to pay taxes under any circumstances. Who does? Normally, this question of how the bourgeois state finances itself is of minor interest to socialists but there is another issue at stake. Until working people take state power in their own interests some form of taxation is going to be needed to provide basic services. Hell, in the beginning stages of socialist transformation there may be taxes, depending on the economic superstructure that we inherit from the capitalists.

The argument lurking underneath this one is that if there is no state income tax then the inevitable taxes that will replace that lost revenue will be based on local real property valuations. That means that public services like local education, public works and health care such as they are will be dependent on the wildly varying property tax bases of the various towns. In short, the poor and minorities will get even less public services that at present. And the richer towns? Well, you can already guess about their heartrending problems. We have a side on this one today. Vote it down with both hands!!!

Vote Yes on Question 2- This is a proposition that would decriminalize marijuana possession and use for the recreational smoker, in effect, by making a first offense a civil rather than a criminal one for certain non- drug pusher amounts. There is a system of fines, etc. in place of criminal penalties. Nevertheless the proposition is basically supportable. As socialists we are committed to the decriminalization of all drug use and this proposition is in line with that goal, a basic social right to be left alone to one’s own devises when there are victimless situations involved.

Vote Yes on Question 3- This is a proposition that would ban dog races (essentially greyhound racing) where wagering was involved (subject to state regulation, in other words). The writer of this blog has spend some time betting on various sporting propositions, lately, mainly on college football games (See My revolving weekly Now For The Real Question Of The Day- Who Will Win The National College Football Championship? for current selections.) so I am personally somewhat agnostic on this one, except my “significant other” is very strongly in favor of this one. I will defer to her on this. I would rather watch horses race any day. From my limited knowledge on this subject, the trainers do not do right by these beautiful animals either during their racing careers or seeing that they are provided for after that time.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Hoodoo Lady- Memphis Minnie


Hoodoo Lady, Memphis Minnie, 1933-37, Sony, 1991

One of the interesting facts about the development of the blues is that in the early days the recorded music and the bulk of the live performances were done by women, at least they were the most popular exponents of the genre. That time, the early 1920's to the 1930's, was the classic age of women blues performers. Of course, when one thinks about that period the name that comes up is the legendary Bessie Smith. Beyond that, maybe some know Ethel Waters. And beyond that-a blank.

Yet the blues singer under review, Memphis Minnie, probably had as a productive career as either of the above-mentioned names. And here is the kicker. If you were to ask today's leading women blues singers like Bonnie Raitt, Rory Block, Tracey Nelson or Maria Muldaur about influences they will, naturally, give the obligatory Bessie response, but perhaps more surprisingly will also praise Ms. Minnie to the skies.

This compilation, while not technically the best, will explain the why of the above paragraph. Minnie worked with many back up players over the years, some good some bad, but her style and her energy carried most of the production. She was the mistress of the double entendre so popular in old time blues- you know phrases like `put a little sugar in my bowl'. The best of the bunch here are the title song Hoodoo Lady, Ice Man and Butcher Man but the real deal here is that this is an album you acquire a taste for-and then do not want to turn the damn thing off. That, for me, is high praise indeed.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

*Saucy and Sexy- The Wicked Old World of James M. Cain- "The Institute"-Sex and Power in Washington

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for American novelist James M. Cain

Sex and Power in Washington

The Institute, James M. Cain, Mason/Charter, New York, 1976

The last time I have had a chance to mention the work of James M. Cain, author of the classic noir works The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity a couple of novels that take place in the 1930-40’s in sunny California, was a later work Mignon set in the Louisiana of the American Civil War days. As usual when I get ‘high’ on an author I like to run through most of his or her work to see where he or she is going with it. Thus, this review of a lesser work, a much lesser work by Cain is something of an obligation. As is familiar to anyone who runs through an author’s lifetime of writing efforts not all such endeavors are equal. The Institute written late in Cain’s literary career shows a man who has run out of steam in his literary efforts.

Why is that so here? Well, the premise that Cain is working under is well-worn. Power, sex and philanthropy or some such combination in the corridors of Washington and its environs has been done to death both before and after this 1976 effort. In his earlier work, the classic stuff, Cain distinguished himself by writing novels that verged on being ‘potboilers’ but when the dust settled they were little gems of literary insight into how the human psyche operated when it got its ‘wanting habits on' as Bessie Smith once sang in an old blues tunes. Not so here as the plot is predictable concerning the powerful showing off their wealth by endowing an institute of learning and several off-hand rather surreal romances, the twists lead nowhere and in the end it turns into a sappy melodrama as all is forgiven and the main characters (who survive) the brainy Dr. Palmer and beautiful Mrs. Garrett, lovers and newly-hatched parents ride off into the sunset. Give me those chiselin’ dames and handy ne’er-do-well guys from the old days anytime. Sorry, James.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

***From The Archives (2008)- Allan Greenspan Walks The Plank-Or Should

Allan Greenspan Walks The Plank- Or Should. Where Are Those Pirates of The Caribbean When You Need Them?


One of the least edifying aspects of this international capitalist meltdown is the rush to point fingers at who is to blame. In America most conservative commentators have fixated on (surprise) the Democrats and their long ago legislation concerning Freddie Mac and Fannie Mac or the Community Redevelopment Act. These actions, rather than traditional Wall Street greed (make that super-greed) are seen as the culprits. The Democrats want to blame (surprise) Wall Street, “the bad capitalists”, for being unregulated. Here again, race and class raise their ugly little heads in the background. Behind all of this palaver are the “little guys and gals” , that is the poor working people of every race but mainly black and Hispanic, who just wanted to have their own homes-not an irrational dream in America whatever this writer’s personal take on the wisdom of such a choice might be. You see the poor are the fall guys and gals because they were in over their heads and should not have pursued that road. Well, we will let that one rest for now because we have bigger fish to fry today.

On October 23, 2008 former Federal Reserve Chairman Allan Greenspan appeared before a Congressional committee investigating the causes of the international financial meltdown. During the course of the interchange between Greenspan and members of the committee he owned up to the fact that, as long time overseer of the capitalist markets, he had miscalculated (“found a flaw” to use his expression) concerning the effects that self-interest should have played in the markets- the so-called “invisible hand” that watches out and safeguards against irrational behavior. Thanks for that insight, Allan. However there is more to it than that. Greenspan’s economic policies reflected his adherence to the ultra-capitalist notions of one of Russian Revolution refugee, Ayn Rand. A lynchpin in that thinking is the belief that markets should regulate themselves with little (really no) oversight from “big brother” government. Well, at least that was the widely accepted “wisdom” before some eight trillion dollars of “paper wealth” in the market proved to be essentially “funny money”.

None of the back and forth between the concepts of liberal “welfare state” capitalism and conservative “free market” capitalism reflected in this investigation is to the point. To paraphrase an old presidential campaign slogan- “It’s the system, stupid”. That is the elephant in the room studiously ignored by Republican and Democrat alike. Private ownership of the means of production and its adjunct credit markets and other financial devises as defined by the long history of capitalist rule has produced one constant- the continuous need for profits. No just any rate of profits but the highest possible, to put it in a word- greed. Until that glorious day when greed is not the central driving force behind economic life and is replaced by rational international socialist planning that will continue to be true. Revolutions have convulsed societies over policies that caused far less damage to the social fabric than have occurred in the present meltdown. But until that time a few heads should roll. As a contribution to that end can anyone disagree that old Allan Greenspan should walk the plank? I think not.

Friday, October 24, 2008

*From The Marxist Archives- The Irish Question-Our Day Will Come-A Socialist Day

Click on the title to link to "Wikipedia"'s entry for the Provisional IRA, provided here as background. As always with this source and its collective editorial policy, especially with controversial political issues like the Provisional IRA, be careful checking the accuracy of the information provided at any given time.


From The Archives- The Irish Question

Spartacist Ireland Spring/Summer 2002

The protest action of 18 January 2002 by Catholic and Protestant workers in Northern Ireland against the murder of a Catholic postal worker by Loyalist paramilitaries was a rare and welcome display of united class action across the sectarian divide. However, the pro-capitalist trade union bureaucrats worked to divert the justified outrage of the workers into support for the imperialist “peace” fraud, which has in fact resulted in an escalation of anti-Catholic violence. It is precisely united working-class action which is needed to be mobilized against racist attacks and in defense of immigrants and Travellers, but the union bureaucracy here are wedded to pushing the lie of “national unity” and social “partnership”.

We of the Irish section of the ICL fight to break the workers from the reactionary “national unity” which has been the cornerstone of the “war on terrorism. In the U.S., for example, our comrades in the Labor Black League for Social Defense and the Partisan Defense Committee have raised the call on the powerful multiracial unions of the San Francisco Bay area to mobilize on February 9, 2002 against the U.S. government’s war on America’s integrated working class, on black people and on immigrants.

The struggle against racism must be linked to the fight against capitalist exploitation and for socialist revolution. It must be conducted not only against the clericalist state and groups like the xenophobic Immigration Control Platform, both of which incite murder by racist gangs, but also a political battle against the misleaders of the workers movement- the Labor Party and the trade union bureaucracy. The Irish Labor Party was in the previous government which seized on a wave or racist hysteria to enact the 1997 “Aliens Order” and slammed the door to immigrants. Their left tails, the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party absolve the trade union bureaucrats and the Labor Party, whom they supported in the previous elections.


The 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City was gift to British Prime Minister Tony Blair in several ways, not least that the IRA (Irish Republican Army-Provos) announce on October 23, 2002 that they had begun to decommission their weapons. The British government claims to be waging a “war against terrorism” in the interests of “democracy’ and the “civilized world” against religious fanatics. Terrorism anyone? How about the terrorism of the British state, such as the massive bombings of Afghanistan, and before this Serbia, in which this bloodthirsty Blair Labor government took center stage? What about British imperialism’s domination of Ireland, which lasted for centuries and created a militarized garrison state in the North where the fa├žade of democracy was never much in evidence and where no-one has any reason to believe in such myths as “unarmed Bobbies”. As for religious zealots, there are very few Muslims in Northern Ireland but British rule there rests on collaboration with a gang of crazed fundamentalist Protestant bigots.

We said in 1993 that: “Any imperialist ‘deal’ will be bloody and brutal and will necessarily be at the expense of the oppressed Catholic minority. And it would not do any good for working-class Protestants either” (Workers Hammer no. 138, November/December 1993). This has been borne out: Loyalist attacks against Catholics have continued, firebombings and pipebombings are commonplace. There were 220 Loyalist attacks recorded in 213 days to August of 2001, including 75 bombings and 20 gun attacks (An Phoblacht, 9 August 2001). In the last week of October 2001 alone there were twelve bomb attacks against Catholics in North Belfast. There have, additionally, been a number of murders of Catholics including a Protestant killed by a Loyalist gunman who thought he was a Catholic.

The Catholics are an oppressed minority living under permanent siege. The plight of working- class Catholics hit international headlines in the summer of 2001 as schoolgirls in Ardoyne, North Belfast trying to walk to Holy Cross school with their parents wee shown daily on television confronting a Loyalist mob howling vile anti-Catholic and anti-woman slurs and throwing pipebombs and garbage. The British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary- now renamed the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI)- lined the streets and tried to look as if they wee making an honest effort to “keep the peace”. On the day of their name change, the PSNI escorted leaders of the Orange Order down the Catholic Garvaghy Road. Catholics know they have as much to fear from the police and the army as they do from the Loyalist death squads; indeed IRA decommissioning leaves sections of the Catholic population feeling defenseless against these forces.

Those scenes at Holy Cross school are a microcosm of Northern Ireland which show the bitter reality of British Labor’s imperialist “peace” deal. The fact that Catholic parents refused to meekly accept their status as second-class citizens brought out blatant anti-Irish prejudice from British journalists covering the story who would often report with amazement that the situation was reminiscent of the conditions of blacks in the American South in the 1950’s prior to the civil rights struggles there; nevertheless in the next breath they would ask Catholic parents why they did not use the back entrance to the school! The Irish bourgeois press, which has the same contempt for working class Catholics in the North as for those in the South, echoed Loyalist lies that the exercise was just a publicity stunt for Sinn Fein (SF). But, with or without decommissioning, Sinn Fein manifestly can offer no way forward to the beleaguered Catholics.

Sinn Fein has been organizing protests against particular military installations and complaining that the imperialists have not lived up to the ‘“program for demilitarization ‘ that was promised in the Good Friday Agreement “ (An Phoblacht, 1 November 2001). But while the British may agree to scale down the army presence to cut their costs, the Good Friday Agreement is premised on troops remaining in Northern Ireland.

We fight for the immediate unconditional withdrawal of British troops, not merely because no good can come of the British military presence there, but also because we agree with Karl Marx that the British working class cannot make a revolution against their “ own” capitalist rulers if they accept imperialist oppression in Ireland. It is in the direct interest of the working class to oppose repressive measures in Northern Ireland, which are often subsequently imposed on workers and minorities in Britain. After 9/11, Jack Straw pledged Britain would see “security of a kind people in Northern Ireland have had to live with for decades”. Sure enough, immigrants suspected of “terrorism” are being rounded up and interned without trial.
Withdrawal of the British Army does not in itself automatically ensure advance in a revolutionary direction, but it is the necessary starting point for a proletarian revolutionary perspective. We seek to break workers from illusions in Labor, which has loyally served racist, chauvinist British imperialism and the monarchy. The SL/B and Dublin Spartacist Group, sections of the ICL, fight to build revolutionary internationalist workers parties to put an end to capitalist rule and to establish a workers republic in Ireland as part of a federation of workers republics in the British Isles. Our framework is internationalist and is based on the necessity to link the struggles of the working class of Ireland, North and South, with those of workers in England, Scotland and Wales.

In Northern Ireland divisions between Catholics and Protestants have deepened, which means the prospect of united struggle by Protestant and Catholic workers for their common class interests appear remote. Although Protestant workers are only marginally better off than their Catholic counterparts, the view is pervasive that the improvements in the position of one community will necessarily be at the expense of the other. This indeed is true, unless such struggles challenge the framework of capitalist rule. A proletarian revolutionary perspective is the only way forward. There can be no just solution to the communal conflict in Northern Ireland short of proletarian rule in all of Ireland and Britain.


The Labor-loyal fake left have shamelessly touted British imperialism, in the guise of Blair and the Labor government, as the agency to bring peace and equality to the North. In the last British elections (2001), the Socialist Alliance-which at the time consisted of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), Socialist Party, Workers Power and others- supported the reelection of Labor and removed the call for troops out of Northern Ireland from their manifesto before launching it to the bourgeois press. We said “No vote to Labor, imperialists butchers” and “No vote to Socialist Alliance, lackeys of Labor.”

The SWP is silent about the British Army, but gushing about the “tremendous hopes for peace in Northern Ireland following the IRA’s announcement that it will destroy its weapons”. They cravenly claim Labor’s “peace” process provides “space” for united struggle of the working class. Socialist Worker (3 November 2001) says;
“That process is about reaching an accommodation between politicians representing Catholic and Protestant ‘communities”.

“It can reproduce the sectarian division that is built into the Northern Ireland state. But it does provide a space for working class people, Catholic and Protestant, to fight for their interests against sectarianism.”

This is almost exactly what the SWP said when they supported British troops being sent to Northern Ireland in 1969 (by a Labor government, of course), which they claimed would provide a “breathing space” for the Catholics. They wrote:
“The breathing space provided by the presence of British troops is short but vital. Those who call for the immediate withdrawal of the troops before the men behind the barricades can defend themselves are inviting a pogrom which will hit first and hardest at socialists.”

-Socialist Worker, 11 September 1969

Less than three years later “their” British Army shot down 14 defenseless Catholics in cold blood in Derry on Bloody Sunday.

The sectarian Orange statelet was created by British imperialism’s partition of Ireland as a police state based on subjugation of the Catholic minority. Its backbone has been the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and, since 1969, the army; both work in tandem with the Loyalist paramilitary killers. Recent history is littered with scandals about collusion between Loyalist murderers and the RUC/PSNI and British Army, and there is “no breathing space” for anyone who tries to expose this to the outside world. Thus on September 28, 2001, Martin O’ Hagan, a journalist with the Dublin-based Sunday World, who researched the collusion between the British Army, the RUC, leading Unionist politicians and Loyalist death squads, was murdered by the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF). Rosemary Nelson, a prominent Catholic lawyer who reported to the UN that she received death threats from the RUC was also murdered in 1999; ten years earlier Pat Finucane, another well-known Catholic lawyer was also murdered by the Loyalist in collusion with the state. The current Labor government (2001) is withholding documents on the 1974 bombings in Dublin and Monaghan which killed 33 people and British state involvement is widely suspected.
The Laborite left even advocate “peace” with Loyalist thugs such as Billy Hutchinson. Irish secretary of the transport union ATGWU, Mick O’Reilly, recruited the Ulster Volunteer Force’s Hutchinson and David Ervine into the ATGWU. The wretched Socialist Party has sponsored Hutchinson in public meetings and the SWP jumped on the bandwagon by taking part in a 1999 “debate” with him organized by the Scottish Socialist Party.


Following capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union in 1991-92, petty-bourgeois nationalist movements like Sinn Fein and the PLO have had much less room to maneuver and have increasingly sought to make deals with imperialism. Sinn Fein played up illusions that by involving U.S. imperialism and the Dublin government they would secure a better deal from British imperialism for the Catholics. This overlooks the fact that U.S. imperialism is the most powerful enemy of the workers and oppressed of the world as can been seen in the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, or the dirty colonial wars against Korea and Vietnam; the bedrock of the system of exploitation of American workers rests on racist oppression of black people. The imperialist “peace” deal was brokered under Democratic President Clinton, who preferred to pass off imperialist marauding as “human right” imperialism, something Bush and Company do not bother with. British imperialism is the junior partner of U.S. imperialism- the City of London has close ties with Wall Street and British imperialism is also the foremost military ally of U.S. imperialism in Europe. The Irish capitalist government is certainly no better. It supported the U.S. and Britain’s military adventures, including offering facilities for NATO warplanes at Shannon airport, and is viciously repressive of workers, women, Travellers and Republicans at home.

Petty-bourgeois nationalism is a political dead-end which cannot further the interests of the Catholic minority. It is premised on the world being divided into good and bad peoples. Whether through armed struggle (“the Armalite”) or the parliamentary road (“the ballot box”) the perspective of the Irish nationalists is to pressure imperialism.

Actions such as the Omagh bombing by the “Real IRA”. Which killed and maimed both Protestant and Catholic civilians in a shopping area, was a hideous crime from the standpoint of the working class and in no way a blow against imperialism. Marxists oppose the tactic of individual terror because it is antithetical to the necessary task of mobilizing the working class against imperialist and capitalist oppressors. Rather it expresses the aims of its practitioners to be the leaders of “their” people. When Irish nationalist groups strike a blow against the forces of British imperialism, the RUC/PSNI or Loyalist fascistic killers, we defend the perpetrators of such acts against state retribution. But we have a fundamentally different attitude to indiscriminate terror directed against civilians. From a proletarian standpoint, bombings such as Omagh or the bombing of British shopping centers and pubs, are criminal acts which only serve to deepen hatred between Protestant and Catholic, English and Irish workers.

The 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York, an atrocity designed to kill as many civilians as possible, has served to weld American workers to the ruling class just as Irish nationalist atrocities against Protestants push Protestant workers toward Loyalist reactionaries. Viewed from the interests of the working class, nationalist terror ranges from criminal-such as Omagh- to merely stupid. Even when the IRA hits a military target these acts are carried out as part of a program, which writes off the Protestant-and Catholic- working class and also the British proletariat, which has an important Irish component.

In 1993, on the eve of the “peace” negotiations, the mainly Protestant workforce at Short Brothers in Belfast walked off the job in protest against the murder of a Catholic co-worker by Loyalist paramilitaries; very shortly afterwards the IRA placed a bomb in Belfast’s Shankill Road, which killed nine working-class Protestant shoppers. This led to anti-Catholic demonstrations by Protestant workers in Belfast.
A revolutionary party would struggle for an integrated, programmatically based workers militia to defend both Catholics and Protestants against sectarian attacks. As we said in our Theses on Ireland this must be based on the demand for the immediate withdrawal of the British Army and our Marxist analysis of terrorism:
“Such militias will need a broad and strong programmatic basis if they are not to be derailed or coopted. They cannot develop just out of trade unionism but fundamentally require the existence of a strong and authoritative revolutionary cadre. Each militia unit would need at least one member of each community and the presence and strong influence of trained revolutionary cadre. Consequently, the demand for an anti-sectarian workers militia is closely linked to the growth of a Leninist party based on a developed revolutionary program.”

Spartacist no. 24, Autumn 1977

We also explained there that:

“Leninism and nationalism are fundamentally counterposed political viewpoints. Thus, while revolutionists struggle against all forms of national oppression, they are also opposed to all forms of nationalist ideology. It is a revision of Leninism to claim that the ‘nationalism of the oppressed” is progressive and can be supported by communist internationalists. In one of his major works on the national question Lenin stressed: ‘Marxism cannot be reconciled with nationalism, be it even of the “most just”, “purest” most refined and civilized brand. In place of all forms of nationalism Marxism advances internationalism…’ “Critical Remarks on the National Question,’ Collected Works, Vol. 20


Loyalist bigot Ian Paisley howls that the Good Friday Agreement is the slippery slope to being ruled by Dublin. Partition meant that Catholics in the North constituted an oppressed minority (although they are now over 40 per cent of the population) but an overwhelming majority in the South, In the North, we oppose all discrimination against the Catholic minority. We also recognize that the Protestants are a distinct community, largely defined in opposition to the Irish Catholic nation. As Leninist we uphold the right of self-determination of all nations, which means the right to set up an independent state, but where peoples are geographically interpenetrated “self-determination” for one can only be achieved by denying it to the other. Under capitalism this leads to intercommunal slaughter. We oppose the perspective of a capitalist “united Ireland” proffered by Sinn Fein nationalists, a prospect which is used to heighten genuine fears among Protestants of a reversal of the terms of oppression. Fear of being incorporated into the clericalist state serves to compact Protestants behind the Loyalist bigots. Precluding a polarization along class lines and instead laying the basis for communal blood-bath and forced population transfers.

The fact that the bourgeois state in the South is a Catholic Clericalist state is grist to the mill of the Loyalist bigots. The struggle for separation of church and state and for free abortion on demand is key not only for social progress in the South but as a way to under mine communalism in the North. Sinn Fein shares the clerical-nationalist outlook f Fianna Fail. Sinn Fein no longer flatly opposed abortion rights, but only concedes that it should be legally available in extreme circumstances, specifically: “where a woman’s mental and physical well-being or life is at risk or in grave danger” (Irish Times on the Web, 6 December 2001). The struggle for abortion rights strikes at backward Protestant fundamentalists as well. Significantly, although Sinn Fein’s Bairbre de Brun is health minister in the Stormont Assembly (2001), Sinn Fein was conspicuously absent from a crucial debate on legalizing abortion in Northern Ireland which was opposed by Ian Paisley’s DUP, David Trimble’s UUP, the Alliance Party and the SDLP.

The DSG has actively intervened in support of struggles of the combative Irish working class, fighting for abortion rights and counterposing our program to that of the Laborite bureaucrats. We said in a leaflet for the 1999 Irish nurse’s strike:
“It is this anti-woman Church which runs the hospitals. We call for: complete separation of church and state! We need free, quality healthcare for all. For free abortion and free contraception on demand! For free 24-hour childcare! To achieve these basic needs of women and the working class requires a revolutionary struggle against the entire capitalist system- and its labor lieutenants within the working class.”

-reprinted in Workers Hammer no. 171, Winter 1999/2000

After the recent elections (Spring 2002) in the South, Sinn Fein is poised to gain support at the expense of Fianna Fail and also trying to re-brand itself as the “left” alternative to Labor. Labor is rightly hated by workers for having dished out capitalist attacks as partners in coalition governments, most notoriously in 1994 by refusing to support striking TEAM Aer Lingus workers at Dublin airport. The Irish Labor Party, like its British namesake, is a bourgeois workers party- having a working-class base but a bourgeois program. They are loyal servants of the Irish capitalist class.

Sinn Fein can be scathing in their press about Labor’s rotten record. One of their articles on Labor concludes: “Sinn Fein is well on its way to overtaking the Labor Party, to cementing its position as the voice of the Irish Left, but in doing so the party must be careful that it does not lose sight of one of Connolly’s most fundamental truths. ‘The cause of labor is the cause of Ireland, the cause of Ireland is the cause of Labor” (An Phoblacht, 30 August 2001). But the idea that Sinn Fein could become the “voice of the Irish left” is absurd- they are a petty bourgeois capitalist party.

It is disingenuous in the extreme for Sinn Fein to claim the tradition of James Connolly. Connolly initiated and led the 1916 Easter Uprising in Dublin, hoping it would ignite workers struggles against capitalist rule in Europe amid the carnage of World War I. This did come about, with the Russian October Revolution of 1917, but by that time Connolly had been executed. Nonetheless the Rising was the catalyst for the end of British colonial rule in Ireland. Connolly was a revolutionary socialist and an internationalist who, together with Jim Larkin, led significant class battles of the Irish working class in Dublin, and in Belfast they made huge strides to unite Catholic and Protestant workers. Connolly’s success in overcoming sectarian bigotry was achieved because as a socialist he fought against the state, the Orange Order and, to the best of his ability, against Catholic nationalism. Like most socialists of his time outside Russia, he was not acquainted with Leninism, which alone hammered out a Marxist perspective on the national question. Connolly fought trenchantly against the Laborite trade union bureaucracy in Britain and in Ireland; as a true labor lieutenant of British imperialism Labor’s Arthur Henderson led the applause in the House of Commons when the announcement was made that Connolly had been executed by a British firing squad.

The kind of consciousness Connolly had instilled among workers was once again in evidence among the Belfast workers in the 1919 engineering strike. The most significant class battle to take place during the independence struggle. Charles McKay, a socialist of Catholic background, led a strike of mainly Protestant workers that shut down all heavy industry and most of the city. It was part of a wave of tumultuous strikes in engineering centers, including Glasgow. The army was deployed in Belfast (and later in Glasgow) but the strike lost because it was betrayed by the Labor bureaucrats in Britain and Ireland. The defeat of the Belfast strike led to massive purges of Catholics and trade union militants from the shipyards (including Protestant shop stewards), which paved the way for partition. Lord French, the British overlord in Ireland, released Sinn Fein leaders such as Arthur Griffith from prison in Dublin in recognition of Sinn Fein opposition to working-class struggle.

He told the Cabinet:

“I did not however, consider that the time was ripe for an actual move in the direction of an immediate release of prisoners until the strikes in the North occurred and a very dangerous crisis was at hand which might plunge the whole country in disaster.’

-quoted in Revolution in Ireland, C. Kostick (1996)

Today with the growing economic recession throughout Britain and Ireland (2002)
The capitalists will seek to increasingly pit one section of the working class against another. This could lead to increase communalism in Northern Ireland or, as happened during the struggles of unemployed workers in Belfast in the 1930’s, it could lead to united struggles of Protestant and Catholic workers. When instances of integrated working class struggle do arise, intervention by a communist vanguard will make a decisive difference to the outcome.

We seek to awaken the working class of England, Scotland and Wales to socialist consciousness and mobilize them around opposition to the monarch, House of Lords and other archaic institutions of British bourgeois rule including the “Mother of Parliaments”. We fight for an Irish workers republic, part of a voluntary federation of workers republics in the British Isles. We also want to create ICL sections and reforge the FI

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

*Free Mumia Now!!!- From The Partisan Defense Committee

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


This information is passed on from the Partisan Defense Committee. Mumia is up against it now, we must redouble our efforts to win his freedom in any way we can.


Supreme Court Bars Evidence of Innocence

Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Now!

There Is No Justice in the Capitalist Courts!

On October 6, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Mumia Abu-Jamal’s appeal for a new trial based on evidence that critical witnesses lied under police coercion in his original frame-up trial. 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 Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther, MOVE supporter and eloquent journalist known as the “voice of the voiceless,” is an innocent man who has been on death row for 26 years, framed up for the killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981. This latest rejection comes after decades of Pennsylvania state and lower federal courts dismissing the mountains of evidence of his innocence and of his racist frame-up by the Philadelphia police and prosecution.

The appeal that was turned down was submitted on July 18 by Mumia’s attorney, Robert R. Bryan. That petition for a Writ of Certiorari on behalf of Mumia was a request for the Supreme Court to grant Mumia’s appeal of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision last February 19, which refused to let him present crucial evidence that key witnesses in his original frame-up trial had lied. The only witness claiming to have seen Mumia with a gun in hand was Cynthia White, a prostitute who was given favors and coerced by the cops to lie. Two months after Faulkner’s death, cops and prosecutors concocted a story that Mumia confessed to the killing as he bled nearly to death on the Jefferson Hospital Emergency Room floor after being shot and beaten by the cops.

The Partisan Defense Committee—a class-struggle, non-sectarian legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League—issued a February 21 press release following the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision, emphasizing that the evidence barred by that court cuts to the heart of the prosecution frame-up. Such evidence included a 28 January 2002 declaration by Yvette Williams, who was in jail with Cynthia White in December 1981, stating that “Cynthia White told me the police were making her lie and say she saw Mr. Jamal shoot Officer Faulkner when she really did not see who did it.” Also barred was the declaration of Kenneth Pate, stepbrother of Priscilla Durham, a Jefferson Hospital security guard who testified at Mumia’s trial to hearing the bogus confession. In his 18 April 2003 declaration, Kenneth Pate recalled that Durham told him of pressure by the cops to say Mumia confessed; she confided to him, “All I heard him say was: ‘Get off me, get off me, they’re trying to kill me’.” (The declarations by Williams and Pate are available in full on the Partisan Defense Committee’s Web site ( and

Mumia’s attorney Robert Bryan will be filing a second petition for review to the U.S. Supreme Court later this year. That petition will deal with the racist jury-rigging that marked Mumia’s 1982 trial. The prosecution used eleven of its 15 peremptory challenges to get rid of black jurors. In 2001, federal district court judge William Yohn overturned Mumia’s death sentence while upholding the frame-up conviction. Mumia’s attorney as well as the prosecution appealed—the former seeking to overturn the conviction and the latter seeking to reinstate the death penalty. On March 27, a three-judge panel of the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Yohn’s ruling. In July, the Third Circuit Court also turned down an appeal for a full court hearing, letting stand its earlier decision. Mumia now faces the prospect of a new sentencing hearing, in which the only two choices are whether Mumia remains condemned to prison for the rest of his life or is again sentenced to death (see “Third Circuit Court Turns Down Appeal,” WV No. 918, 1 August).

The Supreme Court’s rejection of Mumia’s current petition is an outrage, but it comes as no surprise. The Supreme Court has denied previous petitions by Mumia’s attorneys in 1990, 1999 and 2004. The Supreme Court is the highest court of America’s racist capitalist rulers, the class enemy of workers, black people and all the oppressed. The courts, prisons and police exist to maintain, through organized violence and terror, the rule of the capitalists over working people. We have always advocated pursuing all possible legal proceedings. PDC attorneys Rachel Wolkenstein and Jonathan Piper served on Mumia’s legal team from 1995 to 1999, unearthing much evidence of Mumia’s innocence, including the confession of another man, Arnold Beverly, that he and not Mumia shot and killed Faulkner. But as the PDC has underlined, “We place all our faith in the power of the masses and no faith whatever in the ‘justice’ of the courts.”

The power that can make the courts yield is the power of the multiracial working class. It took a campaign of international mass protest, crucially including trade unionists, to help stay the executioner’s hand when Mumia was under a death warrant in 1995. We fight for a strategy of class-struggle defense, which must be based on the understanding that capitalist society is fundamentally divided between two hostile social classes—the capitalist exploiters and the working class—and that the capitalist state and its courts are organs of repression against working people and the oppressed. Our class-struggle strategy is counterposed to that of the liberals and reformists, who promote dangerous illusions that the courts can provide justice for Mumia, illusions codified in their longtime subordination of the demand for Mumia’s freedom to the call for a “new trial.” This reliance on the agencies of the class enemy, including pathetic appeals to capitalist politicians, has been promoted by groups including the Workers World Party, International Socialist Organization, the Revolutionary Communist Party’s Refuse & Resist, Socialist Action, the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal led by Pam Africa and the San Francisco Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal led by Socialist Action honcho Jeff Mackler.

In the weeks following the Third Circuit Court’s March decision, the PDC and its fraternal defense organizations internationally held emergency protests and united-front demonstrations. Though these protests brought out only hundreds, they point to what is necessary to win Mumia’s freedom: the mobilization of the working class independently of and in opposition to its capitalist class enemy, whether Democrat, Republican or Green. Over 500 organizations and individuals—including trade unionists, students, gay rights activists, leftists, black activists, death penalty abolitionists and others—endorsed these protests, called under the slogans: “Mumia Abu-Jamal Is Innocent! Free Mumia Now! Abolish the Racist Death Penalty!”
Mumia’s conviction was a racist, political frame-up of an innocent man, a fighter against racial and class bias, a man who stands for social justice and against U.S. imperialism’s wars of depredation. Since his youth in the Black Panthers, Mumia has endured the hatred and concerted effort of the bourgeoisie to silence him because they see in him the spectre of black revolt. Mumia’s case throws a spotlight on the barbaric death penalty, which is institutionalized state terror directly descended from black chattel slavery and lynch mob terror.

Our fight to free Mumia Abu-Jamal is rooted in the struggle to make the multiracial working class conscious of its class interests in the fight against the entire capitalist system, particularly the understanding that in America the fight for black freedom is central to the struggle for the emancipation of labor itself. The PDC’s Class-Struggle Contingents in protests for Mumia organized by other groups this spring expressed the necessity for independent working-class struggle on behalf of Mumia by demanding, in addition to the united-front calls to free Mumia and abolish the racist death penalty: “There Is No Justice in the Capitalist Courts! Mobilize Labor’s Power—For Mass Protest!”