Letter to Workers Vanguard

For United-front Action to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal

Albany, NY
5 July 2006


I am a long-time reader of Workers Vanguard who, as a member of the Marxist Educational Group, helped organize a Partisan Defense Committee (PDC) forum on Mumia Abu-Jamal at SUNY Albany on 19 May 1995. I was disturbed to read the following in "For a Class-Struggle Fight to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!" (Workers Vanguard No.872, 9 June):

"Although some opportunist 'socialists' now raise freedom for Mumia in conjunction with calls for a 'new trial,' their politics remain in the framework of reliance on the bourgeois state. The Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, initiated by supporters of the International Bolshevik Tendency, organized a 2000 'Labor Conference for Mumia' that resolved to appeal to Clinton's Justice Department to investigate Mumia's case. The conference also resolved to lobby delegates to the Democratic National Convention to pass a motion calling for a new trial."

This seems intended to give the misleading impression that the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT) is among those pushing the "new trial" line. We have participated in the Labor Action Committee (LAC), which did indeed sponsor a "Labor Conference for Mumia" in 2000. The conference, attended by trade unionists representing a wide range of political views, did resolve to lobby the Democratic National Convention and call on Bill Clinton's Justice Department to investigate. But the LAC did not put forward, or support, any such resolutions and the comrades of the IBT voted against all of them.

We have consistently called for Mumia's freedom, rather than for another trial. In February 2000 we wrote:

"Within the movement to defend Mumia an important disagreement has arisen over the political direction of the campaign. Some who once called for 'freeing' Mumia are now calling for him to be re-tried. While it is necessary to pursue every possible legal avenue, the demand for winning freedom for Mumia must remain the political focus of the defense campaign.

"Every fair-minded person who investigates this case can see that it is a classic frame-up. Every activist in his defense campaign knows that Mumia is innocent-which is why the prosecutors had to coerce witnesses and suppress evidence at his original trial. Why then should we focus on a call for the same racist state to re-try him?"
1917 No.22, 2000

In 2000, our British comrades in the Mumia Must Live! united front successfully argued against adding a call for a "new trial" to its basis of unity:

"In the course of building the March demonstration [in which 1000 people participated] there were several intense discussions within Mumia Must Live!, particularly after the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP) joined. The SWP contributed significant resources, and has given MML a much higher profile. At the same time, SWPers have made several attempts to include, as part of MML's basis of unity, a demand for the U.S. courts to retry Mumia. Our comrades and some of the anarchists were opposed to including this demand, and after some to-ing and fro-ing, the SWP relented, and agreed to only raise it in their own name."

Within the limitations of our modest resources we have sought to continue the tradition of non-sectarian, united-front defense work pioneered by the International Labor Defense (ILD) under James P. Cannon. The ILD's campaign in the 1920s to free the anarchist militants Sacco and Vanzetti should, in our view, be a model for the defense of Mumia today.

Writing in the Labor Defender in September 1927, Cannon emphasized both the class nature of the frame-up, and the tremendous potential for direct working-class action:

"The strike movement, in which millions everywhere participated, has opened a new page in the development of the American working class. Even the sporadic beginnings made in the use of this great weapon in a political cause, in spite of and against the opposition or indifference of the official labor leaders in most cases, is fraught with profound significance. It demonstrates the irresistible power that lies in the organized working class, spurred on by the spirit of solidarity.

"The case has always been an issue of the class struggle and not merely one of an exceptional miscarriage of so-called justice." . . .

"We must therefore confidently proceed at all costs to still further arouse and organize the anger of the working men and women against the slaughter of the two labor fighters, and assist it to take the form of huge mass demonstrations and effective strikes.

"That is the great task in the coming days: to put all our energy, militancy and courage up to the last minute into the strike movement and mass demonstrations…. All illusions which paralyze the movement must be overcome. All agents of the bosses who try to sabotage and discredit the protest and strike movement must be given their proper names and exposed."
—reprinted in James P. Cannon, Notebook of An Agitator

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union's West Coast "stop-work" port shut down in April 1999 has been the most significant labor action in Mumia's defense to date. Regrettably, the Spartacist League chose to denigrate it (see 1917 No. 21, 1999).

Whenever possible our comrades have sought to build united-front demonstrations to defend Mumia. On several occasions, particularly in Toronto, we have co-sponsored successful events with an assortment of anarchists, social democrats and other left-wing organizations, including your Canadian affiliate, the Trotskyist League (see Spartacist Canada No. 134, Fall 2002). We recognize that the Partisan Defense Committee (PDC) played a key role in discovering the truth about Mumia's frame-up and bringing his case to the attention of the left and workers' movement. We are pleased that the PDC sells our pamphlet, "The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal," on its literature tables.

As Mumia's struggle approaches a critical juncture it is necessary to lay the basis for a renewed wave of protest activities in North America and internationally. Despite the important differences that separate us, we look forward to once again joining with comrades from the International Communist League, and other political tendencies, to organize the largest possible united-front mobilizations in defense of Mumia's freedom.

Jason Wright,
for the International Bolshevik Tendency

Posted: 08 July 2006