IBT Proposal to PDC/ICL re Demonstration for Mumia Abu-Jamal
25 September 2007
At the Trotskyist League (TL) public forum on 22 September a representative of the Partisan Defense Committee (PDC) spoke about the continuing struggle to free Mumia Abu-Jamal. During the discussion round I agreed with the idea of organizing a demonstration in Toronto in the event that the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals upholds the death sentence or denies Mumias appeals.
I also agreed with Comrade Tynan of the PDC who proposed that the slogans for such a demonstration should be Mumia is Innocent!, Free Mumia! and Abolish the Racist Death Penalty! These same slogans were in fact the basis of unity for the 75-person demonstration on 17 May that we helped initiate, which was endorsed by a number of organizations. At your meeting we suggested that the PDCs projected protest be organized on a similar basis, i.e., as a united front, and stated our willingness to co-sponsor such an event and seek endorsements from the dozen-odd groups that backed the 17 May demonstration. We believe that the relative success of that protest provides the basis for building a larger mobilization this time.
The TL/PDC speakers did not seem to appreciate the advantages of broadening the appeal of the projected protest by including other groups. TL spokesperson John Masters did say that the IBT and others would be more than welcome to get involved with the PDC event, and stated that any groups that participated would be allotted three minutes to speak. This is reasonable enough, but we think that an important opportunity is being missed. Prior to the 17 May demonstration there had been no significant public event for Mumia in Toronto for almost five years. The sponsorship of a broad range of student, black, socialist and anarchist organizations was, in our view, responsible for attracting many individuals to the May demo who might not have attended an event held by only one of the participating groups.
While the 17 May protest had to be organized at the last minute, this time there is an opportunity to hold a preliminary organizing meeting where a basis of unity could be agreed upon (we would push for the same slogans you propose) and a division of labor worked out for publicizing the event and carrying out other practical tasks.
We believe that in any future united-front demonstration each participating group should have a chance to put forward its own distinctive views and criticisms. While the TL/PDC had the largest single contingent at the May event, accounting for almost a third of the crowd, many participants were there because of the endorsements by other organizations.
In our view, a united front involving a number of different groups will broaden the protests appeal and produce a larger demonstration with more impact. We urge the comrades of the TL/PDC to carefully consider such an approach, rather than attempting to organize an event where you are the sole sponsor.
Yours for Mumias freedom,
PDC/ICL response to IBT proposal
Date: 10 October 2007
We are responding to your September 25 email addressed to the TL. Our call, issued on September 3, to prepare for an emergency protest in Toronto on the slogans Mumia Abu-Jamal is an innocent man! Free Mumia now! Abolish the racist death penalty! is one of several initiated by the PDC and its fraternal defense organizations internationally in the absence of evident preparation for protest action by other groups, including in Toronto. Subsequently, some other organizations have called protests in other cities, which we have publicized as the information becomes available.
We have long fought for the broadest possible mobilization for Mumias freedom, centered on the social power of organized labour and with full freedom of criticism for participating organizations. That has entailed political struggle against those who foster deadly illusions in the justice of the capitalist state and, correspondingly, seek to denigrate or censor our class-struggle perspective. This is in contrast to your own record of conciliating such forces, including at the May 17 Toronto demonstration where, for example, your speakers declined to mention, much less argue against, the reformists new trial calls that have undermined mobilizations for Mumias defense. It is in this context that we must take your demand for a preliminary organizing meeting to agree a basis of unity for Mumia protests.
As our spokesmen reiterated at the September 22 TL forum Immigrants and minorities: Key to working-class struggle, all groups who agree with the rally slogansas you say you doshould do their part to build the protest, including by publicizing it, bringing out their members and supporters and distributing their own propaganda if so desired. Groups that do this will of course be granted speaking time, as has always been the norm at such PDC-initiated demonstrations. That is exactly what a united front is. We urge you to direct your efforts to building what will be an urgent action in fighting for Mumias freedom. Freedom now for Mumia-Abu Jamalan innocent man!
An updated version of our leaflet calling for the emergency protest is attached.
IBT reply to ICL/PDC
9 November 2007
We regret your decision to reject our proposals for united-front demonstrations in Toronto and London [see appendix below] in the event of an unfavorable ruling on Mumia Abu-Jamals current appeal before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. Rather than seeking to work with other organizations which support Mumia, you seem intent on holding events under your own banner. On 17 May we helped organize an effective united-front emergency action in Toronto to coincide with Mumias hearing on the basis of three slogans: Mumia is Innocent!, Free Mumia! and Abolish the racist death penalty! We believe that this demonstration, in which you participated, provides a model for how the broadest possible mobilization for Mumias freedom can actually be built.
Almost by definition, a demonstration co-sponsored by several organizations working together will have a broader appeal than a protest organized by a single group. As we noted in our 25 September letter, The sponsorship of a broad range of student, black, socialist and anarchist organizations was, in our view, responsible for attracting many individuals to the May demo who might not have attended an event held by only one of the participating groups. You did not comment on this in your 10 October reply, perhaps because you have a somewhat ambivalent attitude toward the May demonstration. While your supporters made up a third of the crowd, your reason for not co-sponsoring it was pretty odd (see A New Spartacist Principle, www.bolshevik.org, 27 May).
Instead of a united front, you propose that everyone simply follow the International Communist League (ICL) and its Partisan Defense Committee (PDC):
[A]ll groups who agree with the rally slogansas you say you doshould do their part to build the [PDC] protest, including by publicizing it, bringing out their members and supporters and distributing their own propaganda if so desired. Groups that do this will of course be granted speaking time, as has always been the norm at such PDC-initiated demonstrations. That is exactly what a united front is.
Not quite. A real united front is a joint initiative by two or more organizations for a common purpose. In a united front one component does not grant the others the right to speak. Your comrade Joseph Seymour put it like this:
A united front does not refer to any and every kind of cooperation with other political organizations. A united front is essentially a common action characteristically around concrete, usually negative, demands on bourgeois authority. The characteristic organizational form of the united front is a technical coordinating committee.
Your approach smacks of a united front from below in which one group calls for everyone to unite under its leadership. The problem with this is that people who do not politically identify with a particular tendency often lack enthusiasm for taking its direction, and as a result, mobilizations organized in this fashion tend to be smaller than those that are more broadly based.
It is clear that we have substantial agreement on the essential questions regarding Mumias case. We have publicly acknowledged the PDCs very important contributions, particularly your role in proving Mumias innocence by unearthing the truth about how and why Officer Daniel Faulkner was killed. In The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal we saluted the PDCs opposition to attempts by liberals and reformist leftists to change the political axis of the campaign from a fight to free Mumia to one of re-trying him.
Unfortunately, your record has, at times, been marred by sectarianism. An outstanding example was your refusal to march in the large 24 April 1999 demonstrations for Mumia in San Francisco and Philadelphia (see Disagreeable Sectarians, 1917 No. 21 and Whatever Happened to the Spartacist League?). While you later acknowledged that this was indeed a mistake, your current rejection of a united-front approach reveals the same sectarian impulse.
In the letter from your Toronto comrades rebuffing our proposal, you refer to those who foster deadly illusions in the justice of the capitalist state, and claim that we have a:
record of conciliating such forces, including at the May 17 Toronto demonstration where, for example, your speakers declined to mention, much less argue against, the reformists new trial calls that have undermined mobilizations for Mumias defense. It is in this context that we must take your demand for a preliminary organizing meeting to agree a basis of unity for Mumia protests.
While we have co-sponsored events to demand Mumias freedom with people who do not share our view of the capitalist justice system, we have never raised or supported the demand for a new trial, as you well know. At the 17 May Toronto protest our spokesperson explicitly criticized the idea that working people and the oppressed can expect justice from the bourgeois courts:
[Mumias] case is a political one and it is through a political struggle in the workers movement and oppressed that his freedom can be won. We should have no faith in the capitalist courts. That said, every possible legal avenue must be pursued to save Mumias life, but the best way to protect him is by using the frame-up to expose the entire corrupt capitalist judicial system.
No reasonable person could interpret this as conciliating those who foster deadly illusions in the justice of the capitalist state.
In a 10 October letter to our comrades in London, [appended below] Kate Klein of the PDC claimed that the Mumia Must Live! (MML) united front that we participated in had also conciliated advocates of a new trial. In fact, every MML event was organized on the basis of two slogans: Free Mumia Abu-Jamal! and Abolish the Racist Death Penalty! We did not seek to exclude those who push the demand for a new trial, though we have a record of consistently arguing against it. MML organized a rally of 1,000 on 4 March 2000by far the largest demonstration for Mumia in Britain to date. As we reported in1917 No. 22, the question of adding the demand for a new trial was proposed and rejected by the united-front committee:
In the course of building the March demonstration 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 MMLs 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.
While we think that united-front efforts are preferable, we will actively participate in events in defense of Mumia, regardless of how, or by whom, they are organized.
Yours for Mumias Freedom!
APPENDIX LONDON CORRESPONDENCE
From: IBT Britain [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
We see you have called an emergency demonstration at the US embassy in the event of an unfavourable decision in Mumia's case by the Court of the Third Circuit, around the slogans: Free Mumia Abu-Jamal! Mumia is an innocent man! Abolish the racist death penalty! We fully agree that such a demonstration is necessary, and we support these slogans.
However, as you know, we believe such demonstrations will be larger and more effective if organised by a united front committee with various participants rather than called by only one organisation. We were pleased that at your public meeting on 29 September comrade Eibhlin indicated that a united front between our two organisations was possible, although she stipulated that it would not imply a non-aggression pact. We want to follow up the possibility of working together (and involving whatever other forces we can) to organise the largest possible demonstration.
If you are prepared to proceed, we propose that we organise an emergency meeting in central London early next week. This would give us time to notify other groups and individuals who have shown interest in Mumia's case in the past. We anticipate that this would be the only meeting prior to the actual event, but we think it could be very useful to broaden participation, discuss practical arrangements and help spread the word.
Please get back to us as soon as possible so we can get things moving. Of course, if you have any proposals for alternative arrangements we would be very happy to discuss them.
All out for Mumia!
From: Partisan Defence [mailto:email@example.com]
To: Christoph Lichtenberg/IBT
We received your 1 October email. Our call for an emergency protest in London on the slogans Mumia Abu-Jamal is an innocent man! Free Mumia now! Abolish the racist death penalty! is one of several initiated by the PDC and its fraternal defence organisations internationally in the absence of evident preparation for protest action by other groups, including in London. Subsequently, some other organisations have called protests in other cities, which we have publicised as the information becomes available.
We have a history of fighting for the broadest possible mobilisations for Mumias freedom, centred on the social power of the organised working class and with full freedom of criticism for participating organisations. That has entailed political struggle against those who foster deadly illusions in the justice of the capitalist state and, correspondingly, seek to denigrate our class-struggle perspective, as happened at the 17 May London demonstration organised by yourselves. Our record is in contrast to your own record of conciliating such forces, including when you acted as part of the Mumia Must Live! committee, which under your auspices called a rally in London on 25 April 1999 modelled on the 26 February 1999 Millions for Mumia rally in New York which unambiguously called for a new trial. This perspective has been used to undermine mobilisations for Mumias freedom. Your own record of working in committees that conciliate such politics is the context in which we must take your proposal for a united front committee with various participants to organise the emergency protests.
As our spokesmen said at the Spartacus Youth Group DVD showing at SOAS on 29 September, all groups who agree with the protest slogansas you say you doshould do their part to build the protest, including by publicising it, bringing out their members and supporters and distributing their own propaganda. Groups that do this will of course be granted speaking time, as has been the norm at such PDC-initiated demonstrations. This is exactly what a united front is. We urge you to direct your efforts to building what will be an urgent action in fighting for Mumias freedom. Freedom now for Mumia Abu-Jamal, an innocent man!
Posted: 31 March 2008