Ray O. Light
A Ray O. Light Special Edition
The Making of a Black Revolutionary
In 1964, Philadelphia, PA deputy police commissioner Frank Rizzo put down one of the first urban Black rebellions of the modern civil rights movement in the USA. In 1967, now police commissioner, Rizzo sent cops with clubs swinging into a demonstration of Black high school students demanding courses in Black history. Thirteen year old Wesley Cook (now Mumia Abu-Jamal) was among these youth. Rizzo was praised by U.S. President Richard Nixon for these actions.
In 1968, Alabama Governor George Wallace, in his bid for the U.S. Presidency, made a campaign stop in Philadelphia. Wesley Cook and three other young Afro-American men, all friends, courageously went to the Wallace rally and responded to Wallace and the white supremacist crowd's chants of "send these N's back to Africa" with their own chants of "Black Power, Ungowa, Black Power" until they were compelled to leave the stadium by helmeted police.
Before they could board the bus home they were beaten by eight or ten white men with blackjacks. Badly beaten, Mumia yelled for help. A white policeman approached and kicked him directly in the face and then charged him with assault and battery on a police officer. The judge dismissed the case after Mumia appeared in court with a swollen and bloodied face and stated that he had been the one assaulted. Nevertheless, as Mumia ironically remarks with his indomitable spirit, he is "thankful to that faceless cop... for he kicked me straight into the Black Panther Party". (Live from Death Row, p.173)
Mumia became the chapter's Lieutenant of Information and honed his considerable skills as a journalist in the course of helping to build Black Panther Party chapters throughout much of Pennsylvania. This fifteen year old was a key Panther leader exposing police brutality against the Afro-American people of Philadelphia. As established by the surveillance record of both the police and the FBI, from then on, Mumia was targeted by the Philadelphia police.
In 1970, Rizzo launched raids against the Philadelphia offices of the Black Panther Party, forcing captured Panthers to strip naked and line up against a wall for news photographers sending a chilling message of intimidation to the Afro-American masses of Philadelphia. As Mumia describes the countrywide campaign against the Panther Party, "Government efforts at disruption were swift and deadly....some thirty-eight Panthers were shot down by racist cops. Party ranks were riddled with FBI-paid agents provocateurs and informants.... By the mid-1970's, the party, split by government disruption and internal strife, suffering from a sharp membership decline, faded from the world's stage." ("Blues for Huey", ibid., p.168,169) Mumia profoundly and frankly admits, "Frustrated, angry, I drifted away from a party that had drifted away from its moorings in the people. Bitterly, I told myself that I would never join another organization." (ibid., p.177)
Meanwhile, in 1972, Rizzo was tapped for Mayor by Philadelphia's white ruling class. As Mayor from 1972 to 1978, Rizzo continued to run Philadelphia as a police state . In 1977 Mayor Rizzo set up a blockade of the MOVE house in Powelton Village to starve out its residents, a small but defiant local Afro-American sect. Among other things, MOVE had dared to criticize bourgeois Black misleadership in the new period of Afro-American setback after the US imperialist assassination and simultaneous deification of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Under international pressure the starvation barricade was removed. In March 1978 the cops invaded MOVE's neighborhood in force, prompting a demonstration of thousands around City Hall in protest of the police state occupation. In August 1978 the police launched an all-out assault on the MOVE residence leading to the conviction of the MOVE 9 to sentences of from 30 to 100 years in prison.
An unprecedented lawsuit was filed by the US Justice Department against Rizzo and other city officials in 1979 for condoning flagrant police brutality between the years of 1975 through 1978. In testimony before the Civil Rights Commission in April of 1979 the president of Philadelphia's Chamber of Commerce and the city's leading banker admitted the existence of police brutality and stated that the business community considered it a trade-off for safe streets. (Of course, the Commission did nothing to help the MOVE political prisoners who are still incarcerated nor did it appreciably improve the police state environment in Philadelphia.)
Mumia states: "There I was in the 1970's, a bored, slightly petit bourgeois, burnt-out ex-Black Panther who distrusted organizations and still simmered in a stew of generational rebellion." (ibid., p.175) Mumia became a radio journalist, and once he began to honestly and fearlessly cover the repression of the MOVE organization with all its implications, he became known as the "voice of the voiceless". He received journalism awards and, in 1981, was named one of Philadelphia's "people to watch" by Philadelphia magazine. By this time, Mumia was perhaps the best known and most effective opponent of the police brutality inflicted on the Afro-American people of Philadelphia. He was president of the Association of Black Journalists in Philadelphia. He had no criminal record. This was the setting in which Mumia Abu-Jamal was railroaded to prison and death row for the alleged murder of a policeman.
Despite years of imprisonment and most of it in solitary confinement, and despite the disintegration of the Black Liberation Movement, Mumia has continuously developed his revolutionary work. When MOVE's residence in the middle of the urban Black community was bombed by the Philadelphia police in 1985 Mumia, virtually alone among journalists, exposed the outrageous and unprecedented war on Philadelphia's Black community. Within the past year, after 17 years on death row, when US imperialism led NATO in their brutal war against the people of Yugoslavia, Mumia, facing the death penalty from the same US imperialist state, courageously defended the Balkan peoples and exposed and denounced the bestial character of US imperialism.
The US Imperialist State Apparatus,
the Frame-up of Mumia Abu-Jamal
and the Afro-American National Question
Mumia correctly describes the police as "tools of white state capitalist power". (ibid., p. 142) As great Lenin pointed out in State and Revolution, on the eve of leading the Russian proletariat to political power in 1917, the state is a special repressive force for the suppression of one class by another. The main feature of the state is its bodies of armed men (police, military, etc.) and the prisons, courts and other institutions of repression. With this Leninist understanding of the state, the approach of Rizzo and the monopoly capitalist businessmen of Philadelphia makes perfect sense, including the rampant, systemic police brutality as well as the "legal" persecution of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
As Mumia himself told the jury in his sentencing hearing, "On December 9, 1981, the police attempted to execute me in the street. This trial is a result of their failure to do so." (ibid., quoted on p. 190) Regarding the substance of the case, the recent observation of a bourgeois legal expert is on point, - if the police were going to try to prove that Mumia had killed the officer they would have checked his hands for powder residue and checked the gun to establish that it had been discharged. The fact that the Philadelphia police department did neither, according to this expert, indicates that they were intent on railroading Mumia regardless of his guilt or innocence. And the judicial system carried through this railroad job with a sham trial full of coerced and suppressed testimony, a judge-imposed and defective defense attorney and a presiding judge who was a former sheriff and still remains today a member of the Fraternal Order of Police-the judge who has sentenced more prisoners to death than any other judge in the USA. Clearly, Mumia was and is a political prisoner.
The objective conditions of life for the Afro-American people in the ghettoes of Philadelphia reflect their status as refugees from the Afro-American nation located in the Black Belt South of the US multi-national state. Because the Afro-American nation in the South is occupied by the military troops as well as dominated by the political apparatus of its imperialist oppressor, the US (North) nation, the rights of the people in the Afro-American national minority refugee camp communities in the US (North) are not respected. And the police state terror in which these communities exist is an important foundation upon which the superexploitation of these oppressed people and especially the Afro-American national minority workers is carried out by US monopoly capital and imperialism.
The Afro-American national minority workers in Philadelphia and the US (North) in general have a direct stake in the victory of national liberation of the Afro-American nation based in the territory of the Black Belt South and they have a direct stake in the victory of socialism in the US (North).
While it is true that the Afro-American liberation movement has experienced a sharp decline in the past thirty years, it is still the Afro-American masses, in the first place, who need to be mobilized to the banner of Justice for Mumia. For the Afro-American people both in the refugee camp ghettoes of the US (North) and the Black Belt South home territory are the Achilles' heel of US imperialism.
Clearly, the emergence of Mumia Abu-Jamal as a revolutionary was connected to the emergence of the Afro-American national liberation struggle centered in the Black Belt South.* And Mumia's political activity, both before his incarceration and since has had at its foundation his consistent defense of the Afro-American national minority community of Philadelphia against police repression.
In the past year or so, the struggle against police brutality has again emerged as a significant political force among the Afro-American masses across the USA. The justness of this struggle was underscored by the "initiative" of Amnesty International to finally place the USA for the first time on its list of the worst offenders of human rights. The specific violations were regarding "police brutality, violations against people in detention and increased numbers of executions." They asserted that these US violations "appear to disproportionately affect people of racial or ethnic minority backgrounds."
In addition, such phenomena as systematic police persecution for "driving while black" have been exposed along with scandals involving police frame-ups of large numbers of victims by the Los Angeles police among others. Finally, Republican Governor George Ryan of Illinois, himself a death penalty advocate, has declared a moratorium on the death penalty in his state because so many death row prisoners have been proved innocent of the charges that put them there -- indicating systemic police frame-ups.
The police murder of Amadou Diallo and the brutalization of Abner Louima by the New York police under "law and order" mayor Giuliani have helped generate a new mass movement there against police brutality among not only the Afro-American people but also the large number of Caribbean black immigrants. This struggle has struck a responsive chord with many Latinos in New York City as well.
And yet, until now, this rising movement against police brutality among peoples of color in the vicinity of Philadelphia has not resulted in Afro-American and Black mass mobilization around the issue of Justice for Mumia. Why is this?
Weaknesses in the Current "Justice for Mumia" Campaign
a.) The struggle against the death penalty vs.
the struggle against police brutality
Most of the leaders and activists around the Mumia campaign thus far have been white petty bourgeois liberals and radicals. The main social composition of the demonstrators for Mumia have been privileged white college students who are doing social work, missionary work. They are death penalty opponents who believe they are doing Mumia a favor.
Whereas Mumia's work has been historically focused around police brutality and exposure of the US imperialist state especially in relation to the oppressed national minority communities of the US (North) but also in relation to workers and oppressed peoples around the world, the main thrust of many current Mumia activists is opposition to the death penalty in general. Most of these folks are satisfied with the status quo of US imperialist society; they just want to eliminate the most blatant and overt forms of terror and brutality.**
Whereas Mumia's fight against police brutality strikes at the heart of the US imperialist state apparatus, the petty bourgeois pacifists' and liberals' fight against the death penalty seeks to reform the decadent, moribund system of imperialist enslavement in the latter days of global capitalism.
Experience is the best teacher. In the US multinational state, police brutality inhabits and inhibits the lives of oppressed peoples constantly. Increasingly police brutality intrudes into the lives of white workers. The largest force in the recent Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO) were some thirty to forty thousand workers from the ranks of organized labor, most of them white and many of whom had come there as conservatives. Yet the rampant police brutality in Seattle that they encountered along with their new found allies among the farmers and workers from other countries around the world including peoples of color, the environmentalists, anti-imperialists, etc. opened the eyes of many of these workers to the role of the police in the US imperialist state. Many of them have caught a glimpse of the future battles against international capital.
Consequently, many of these white workers are now in a better position to recognize that Mumia's fight against police brutality is their fight, too. They are now in a better position to recognize that Mumia has been "telling it like it is" about the real nature of the US imperialist state. The West Coast Longshoremen's Union (ILWU), with its long and proud history of class struggle, staged a one day political strike in solidarity with Mumia last April 24th and another one day strike in solidarity with the anti WTO protesters in Seattle at the end of November, providing a concrete link between these just causes and providing a hint of the powerful potential of the anti-imperialist forces in the USA when the working class moves into action.
The emphasis on opposition to the death penalty among most of Mumia's current supporters as opposed to the emphasis on the struggle against police brutality blunts the revolutionary edge of Mumia's own struggles and achievements. It buries the real stake that the working class and the oppressed peoples have in winning Justice for Mumia. It delays the day when these decisive forces make Mumia's case their own.
From the working class perspective and especially from the Afro-American national minority working class perspective, Mumia has been and continues to be a voice of the voiceless, an important leader on an issue that affects them and their families day in and day out. For such proletarians, defense of Mumia is defense of themselves and their families. The "voiceless" need to find their voice! As Mumia has been their voice, now the "voiceless" need to become Mumia's voice!!
b.) Struggle "against racism" vs.
struggle for Afro-American national liberation
In the era of imperialism and the unfolding proletarian revolution, as Lenin and Stalin taught, there are several fundamental contradictions that plague world capitalism. One of the three most important is "the contradiction between the handful of ruling 'civilized' nations and the hundreds of millions of the colonial and dependent peoples of the world." (Stalin, Foundations of Leninism) Like Puerto Rico, the Afro-American nation located within the belly of the beast is an internal colony of US imperialism. This is why the Afro-American national question has been a touchstone for proletarian revolutionaries the world over in their approach to the imperialist superpower over the past 50 years and more.
In "Live from Death Row", Mumia eloquently lays out the positive and negative qualities of Huey Newton, the Black Panther Party founder and leader. Mumia raises the contact of Huey and the Panthers with world renowned revolutionaries such as Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, and Kim Il Sung. In that period and still today, the main enemy of the world's proletariat and oppressed peoples has been imperialism headed by US imperialism.
Mumia's political stand against international capital, headed by US imperialism, is truly internationalist. Yet it remains rooted in the national struggle of the oppressed Afro-American people. (This latter point helps explain the international significance of Mumia's truth-telling about the nature of US imperialism as well the international significance of Mumia's persecution at the hands of the US imperialist state.)
The utilization of the fundamental contradiction between the oppressed Afro-American people and US imperialism is vital to any victory of the struggle for Justice for Mumia. The cause of Mumia needs to become the property of the Afro-American masses in the first place. It must become their responsibility.
Tragically, those radical groups that have been most active in the campaign for justice for Mumia, including those that call themselves Marxists and even Leninists, have without exception buried the objective existence of the Afro-American nation and the right to self-determination of the Afro-American people, including land and state power in the Black Belt South and national minority rights in the refugee camp ghettoes of the US (North).
Trotskyites have historically liquidated the national question. The Spartacist League , with their Partisan Defense Committee, project an "all-class, no national struggle" line that smacks of ultra-leftism as well as white chauvinism. They oppose their Free Mumia slogan to the more limited demand for Justice for Mumia and a new trial. Yet the latter reform demand is in conformity with the current relation of forces between the relatively weak Mumia forces and the imperialist state enemy that is powerful in the short run. In the absence of the all-out mobilization of the oppressed Afro-American nationality behind Mumia, the Spartacist's projection is premature, provocative, and sectarian.
Workers World, along with International Action Center, People's Video Network, etc. while less overtly Trotskyite and less sectarian than the Spartacists, attempt to populate the Mumia campaign with those they consider "progressives"; namely, "the AFL-CIO leadership, the National Organization of Women, lesbian/gay/bi and trans activists". A 1-27-00 Workers World article on the mass protest of the Confederate flag flying over the South Carolina state capitol dramatizes this point.
The author, Monica Moorehead, a leading Workers World participant in the Mumia campaign, opens with the statement that, "In the largest civil rights demonstration ever held in South Carolina, close to 50,000 people, the vast majority of them African American, converged on the Capitol in Charleston (sic!) on Jan. 17." She goes on to mention the historical role of the flag of the slavocracy, the fact that the date of the protest was the M. L. King Holiday, etc. Yet Moorehead is not only ignorant of the fact that Columbia not Charleston is the capitol of South Carolina but she studiously avoids mention of the Afro-American peoples historical struggle, the Black Liberation Movement or any other upsurge of the Afro-American masses. Instead she liquidates the Afro-American national struggle by substituting the "struggle against racism" for the struggle for national liberation. "What is already crystal clear is that combating white racism on all fronts is an integral part of the class struggle against the divide-and-conquer capitalist system."
Moreover, Moorehead refuses to conclude on the positive note that the Afro-American masses, the main force for anti-imperialist struggle in the heart of their Black Belt South homeland, are in motion. Instead, she bemoans the fact that her cherished "progressives", who could at best be only secondary reserves of the struggle there, were not present!! Moorehead concludes on the negative and undermining note that, "It would have been a big step forward for class solidarity if the AFL-CIO leadership, the National Organization of Women, lesbian/gay/bi and trans activists and other progressive formations had mobilized their constituencies to go to South Carolina to march side by side with the Black masses against racism."
Precisely in the same way, it is a priority of Workers World to attract and mobilize such "progressives" to the Justice for Mumia campaign at the expense of the organization of the Afro-American masses, who are the main force that must be mobilized for Justice to be victorious in Mumia's case in the process of winning Afro-American national liberation and socialism!!!
The Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), along with Refuse and Resist and the October 22nd coalition as well as the Workers World forces, have done some positive work in the Mumia case. However, they also liquidate the Afro-American national struggle along the lines of the Trotskyite groups with similar results.
c.) Armed self defense vs. peaceful coexistence
In the face of the systemic police violence perpetrated against the Afro-American refugee camp ghettoes of the US (North) by US imperialism, the Black Panther Party, during the flowering of the Black Liberation movement thirty years ago, adopted armed self defense as a necessary tactic. But the Panthers were divorced from the Afro-American nation in the Black Belt South, victims of open police warfare, corrupted with the drug trade, surrounded by the pacifists and CPUSA revisionists of the Peace and Freedom Party, provoked into gang warfare, and destroyed.
Following the demise of the Panthers in Philadelphia, MOVE also took up the armed self defense tactic. Mumia's approach to the kangaroo court in his first trial was also exemplary. For serious proletarians, especially in these ghetto communities today, such self defense tactics are all the more necessary for defense against police brutality and the oppressive criminal justice system. Today, in a so-called boom economy in the USA, there are two million people in US prisons!
Today the large number of death penalty opponents and social pacifists of various stripes, including the Committees of Correspondence and the few CPUSA revisionists involved in Mumia's case, promote a policy of peaceful coexistence with the imperialists and their stooges in the police departments, the prisons, courts, etc. Such sentiments are difficult for proletarians to take seriously and are an obstacle to the mobilization of workers of all nationalities to Mumia's banner. While the current legal team, led by attorney Leonard Weinglass, needs and deserves strong support and aid, the most important arenas of struggle for "Justice for Mumia" are the hearts and minds of the Afro-American people, the oppressed peoples, and the US and international working class -- and in the streets.
The Stake of the Afro-American People and
the International Proletariat in "Justice For Mumia"
In his 1992 "Musings on Malcolm", Mumia observed: "The system used the main nonviolent themes of Martin Luther King's life to present a strategy designed to protect its own interests--imagine the most violent nation on earth, the heir of Indian and African genocide, the only nation ever to drop an atomic bomb on a civilian population, the world's biggest arms dealer, the country that napalmed over ten million people in Vietnam (to "save" it from communism), the world's biggest jailer, waving the corpse of King, calling for nonviolence!" (ibid., p. 134) US imperialism began its "peace offensive", its era of negotiations, in relation to the Afro-American people, as well as to the Vietnamese and Chinese peoples, with the assassination of M.L. King in 1968 and with the subsequent deification of King, making him and his non-violent politics a leadership above criticism.
When the Afro-American liberation fighters agreed to lay down the invaluable weapon of fraternal criticism and self-criticism the liberation movement was doomed to defeat at the hands of US imperialism. This is how the Afro-American people and other oppressed nationalities within the US multi-national state became voiceless. Mumia Abu-Jamal has had enough confidence in the people and political courage to wield the weapon of criticism of Black bourgeois misleadership as well as ruthless exposure of US imperialism which is vital to overcome the period of setback and confusion of the past thirty years in the Afro-American liberation struggle. This is how Mumia came to be the "Voice of the Voiceless."
In essence, such principled, honest and critical leadership as that provided by Mumia is vital to the international working class and the international communist movement if it is to overcome the same thirty year period of domination by US imperialism based on the treachery of the opportunists, revisionists, Trotskyites, pacifists, etc.
Consequently, aspiring revolutionaries should learn from Mumia politically. We should use this political wisdom in the interests of the struggle against police brutality, for Afro-American national liberation and for a Socialist world. It is in the context of the general struggle that the specific struggle to free Mumia Abu-Jamal has the best chance to be crowned with victory. Likewise, skilled and dedicated work in the struggle to free Mumia is an important component of the struggle against police brutality, and for Afro-American national liberation and world socialism.
Some Conclusions in Revolutionary Defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal
* Build the Anti-Imperialist United Front for Justice for Mumia.
* Raise the struggle against police brutality as key component of the campaign.
* Make mobilization of the Afro-American proletariat and masses--civil rights organizations, fraternal organizations such as Masons and Eastern Star, Black Churches and Colleges, anti-police brutality organizations and other community organizations-- the primary focus of the Mumia campaign.
* Develop links with the Puerto Rican masses and other oppressed nationalities in struggle against US imperialist national oppression.
* Broaden and deepen support within the labor movement, including within the Labor Party -- fighting for implementation of resolutions where passed -- building toward more political strike action as carried out by the ILWU on the West Coast.
* Deepen international support for the Mumia campaign focusing on the international proletariat and the oppressed nations and peoples, while expanding the already existing base of support for Mumia among the French and other EU rival imperialist bourgeois politicians, exposing and isolating U.S. imperialism to the maximum.
OPPOSE POLICE BRUTALITY!
JUSTICE FOR MUMIA ABU JAMAL!
DOWN WITH US IMPERIALISM - THE CHIEF CRIMINAL OF THE WORLD!!
LAND AND STATE POWER IN THE BLACK BELT SOUTH!
AFRO-AMERICAN NATIONAL MINORITY RIGHTS IN THE NORTHERN CITIES!
SOCIALISM IN THE US MULTI-NATIONAL STATE!
''WORKERS OF THE WORLD AND OPPRESSED PEOPLES UNITE!''
* It is no accident: (1.) The Black
Liberation Movement of the 1960's emerged from the Black Belt South and its
periphery-from the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott, the Greensboro, North
Carolina Woolworth Sit-In, the Student Nonviolent (later National) Coordinating
Committee (SNCC) organizing in Albany, Georgia, etc. (2.) The Black Panther
Party founded in Oakland, California that spread throughout the multinational
state was named for the Black Panther Party of Lowndes County, Alabama. (3.) The
first major urban Black uprisings of the 1960's took place in Harlem,
Philadelphia, and elsewhere in the US (North) in the summer of 1964--a year after
the massive March on Washington which was energized by SNCC and the Southern
based Black Liberation Movement and featured Southern preacher M. L. King's
"I have a dream" speech.
** The death penalty under US imperialist rule is directed against the poor and working class Afro-American, Latino and Native American masses in the first place, as well as increasingly against white workers. For that reason, we support opposition to the death penalty in the US today. However, opposition to the death penalty "in general," abstract pacifism, peaceful coexistence with a rabidly violent class enemy literally disarms and politically disorients US workers and oppressed nationalities by obscuring the nature of the US imperialist state. In addition, there are many Afro-American, Latino and other workers in the US who presently support the death penalty but are potential allies in the cause of Justice for Mumia, Afro-American National Liberation and Socialism and are alienated by this social pacifist approach to the struggle.
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