A letter WV Didn’t Print

New York,
2 November 1992

To the Editor:

On October 2, the governor of Pennsylvania, Robert Casey, was shouted off the stage at the Cooper Union by an indignant audience. Casey, who had supposedly been prevented from speaking at the Democratic National Convention because of his anti-abortion record, was invited to Cooper Union by the Village Voice, which decided to offer him the platform he had been denied at Madison Square Garden. His planned speech, entitled "Can a Liberal Be Pro-Life?," was never delivered.

The demonstrators who greeted Casey outside and inside the auditorium were justly enraged by the fact that he had recently signed a Pennsylvania law that restricts the right to abortion, and which was the basis of the first partially successful Supreme Court challenge to Roe v. Wade. A large portion of the hundred-or-so protesters had also come to demand freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal, the militant black journalist and political prisoner who now awaits execution on Pennsylvania’s death row. Signs and chants demanding Mumia’s release (including those of the New York Bolshevik Tendency) figured prominently in the protest. At one point Casey was even forced to address the Mumia case, if only to state—unconvincingly—that he knew nothing about it.

To their credit, the Spartacist League and Partisan Defense Committee have for the past several years played a leading role in exposing the frame-up of Mumia Abu-Jamal and campaigning for his freedom. One would therefore expect the SL to have played a major part in the October 2 protest. Your participation, however, was limited to a small Workers Vanguard sales team, which stayed no longer than half an hour and made no attempt to go inside. Not a single SL or PDC placard was to be seen in the demonstration outside the auditorium, or in the subsequent demonstration under the stage from which Casey tried to speak. Although the events of that night created quite a flap in the pages of the Village Voice, and received extensive coverage in the New Yorker, they go completely unmentioned in the two issues of Workers Vanguard that have appeared since.

The anti-Casey protest was a small eruption of anger. But it did succeed in calling more attention to Mumia’s case and to the repressive deeds of a Democratic Party politician at a time when most of the left has signed onto the Clinton campaign. How could you have passed up such a perfect opportunity to demonstrate in action the politics you profess on paper?

We have noted in the past that the SL’s autocratic internal regime has created an organization "permeated with servility at one pole and authoritarianism at the other," (as Harry Turner characterized Gerry Healy’s organization in 1966). Such organizations produce people accustomed to operating according to a script, in situations where all the variables can be controlled. When they venture into the big world, where events can sometimes take an unexpected turn, the limitations of such training are thrown into sharp relief. Did you shun the protest against Casey for fear of participating in an action you could not fully control? Or perhaps because the presence of other left groups would have prevented the Spartacist League from claiming exclusive credit? And does Workers Vanguard ignore the events of October 2 out of embarrassment over this shameful abstentionism?

For the New York Bolshevik Tendency,
Jim Cullen

Posted: 25 November 2004