Ray O. Light
Many communists around the world have heard of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the acclaimed Afro-American journalist, who has been on death row in a US penitentiary for almost two decades. These comrades are aware that Mumia is an anti-imperialist and that in a general way we should fight for ‘Justice for Mumia’.
But precisely what is at stake for the international proletariat and its communist vanguard in the struggle for Justice for Mumia? Why should this cause be among the most prominent of our urgent, short term demands no matter where in the world we are functioning?
There are several key features of this case which require that we focus great effort on behalf of Justice for Mumia as we carry out our proletarian internationalist responsibility.
1) Mumia and the US Imperialist State - 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 class repression.
Mumia’s own political work, dating back to his involvement with the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Black Panther Party in the late 1960’s, has focused on police brutality. Mumia correctly describes the police as ‘tools of white state capitalist power’. (Live on Death Row, p. 142) His original trial in which he was convicted of murdering a Philadelphia police officer was a classic frame-up with coerced police witnesses, an admittedly incompetent defence attorney assigned by the judge so as to deprive Mumia of the right to defend himself in court, and, over all, a ‘hanging judge’ right out of the ‘Old West’— a former sheriff who still remains today a member of the Fraternal Order of Police-the judge who has sentenced more prisoners to death row than any other judge in the USA! And during the long years of his incarceration Mumia has exposed the criminal nature of the US prison system as well as the judicial system. Thus, Mumia and his case represent an exposure of the bestial character of the US imperialist state apparatus, especially, as it is directed against the Afro-American people in the refugee camp ghettoes of Philadelphia and throughout the US multinational state.
In addition, Mumia has written scathing exposés of US imperialist state terrorism against other oppressed peoples, including the peoples of Iraq and the Balkans, helping to teach the communists of the world about the nature of the USA today. Ironically, many of Mumia’s lessons about US imperialist society fly in the face of the democratic illusions about this society that many of the liberals, pacifists, revisionists and Trotskyites among the ‘supporters’ of Mumia himself are trying to perpetrate on the world’s oppressed and exploited!
For the communists, then, Mumia Abu-Jamal serves to make us vigilant against petty bourgeois democratic and revisionist illusions about the ‘good’ US imperialists and their capacity for reform, i.e. about peaceful coexistence and peaceful transition to socialism in the time when the main enemy of the world’s proletariat and oppressed peoples is imperialism, headed by US imperialism.
2) Mumia and the Afro-American National question - Like Puerto Rico, the Afro American nation, located in the Black Belt South, is an imprisoned nation within the US imperialist multinational state. The large number of Afro-American people today located in the US (North) (like the Puerto Rican people in New York City, etc.) are an oppressed national minority suffering police brutality, mass arrests and imprisonment, super exploitation, etc. due to the fact that their Black Belt homeland is occupied and without the state power to defend their national minority rights. (The Stalin-Haywood-Comintern theses of 1928 and 1930 elaborate this position.) It is this Afro-American national question analysis that explains the life experience of Mumia Abu-Jamal, including his last seventeen years spent on Death Row.
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 (along with labour vs. capital and the contradiction among the imperialist groupings, states, etc.) 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) Because the Afro-American Nation is strategically located ‘within the belly of the beast’ the Afro-American national question has been a touchstone for proletarian revolutionaries the world over in their approach to the imperialist superpower, US imperialism, over the past 50 years and more.
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. While Mumia was a young Panther Party member, such outstanding communist and revolutionary leaders as Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, and Kim Il Sung made contact with the Panthers and other Afro-American freedom fighters. Clearly, this fact has not been forgotten by Mumia, in spite of the demise of the Afro-American liberation movement and the socialist camp.
The Right to Self Determination
The Lenin-Stalin line on oppressed nations was that they have a right to self-determination up to and including secession, separate statehood. Lenin and Stalin exposed the hypocrisy and betrayal of the social-democrats in the imperialist countries who gave lip service to ‘self-determination’ but refused to support the right to separate statehood, if desired, by the oppressed people of a subject nation.
Today, almost a century later, 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). This reflects the terrible fact that there is no genuine Marxist-Leninist Party in the USA today. At the same time, however, a principled fight for Justice for Mumia can help to bring such a party into existence.
In Stalin’s time, special attention was focused by the Communist International on the Afro-American national question. This same outstanding leadership brilliantly solved the nationalities question in the former Tsarist Russia, a prisonhouse of nations. In that time, the Stalin-led Comintern was not afraid to challenge the imperialist drawn state boundaries around the world.
In the past several decades, with the domination of the international communist movement by anti-Stalinist revisionism in state power, precisely the opposite has been the case. The imperialists, and chiefly US imperialism have boldly used the national question as a reserve of imperialist reaction around the globe. From India-Pakistan to Yugoslavia to China-Taiwan the US imperialists have become masterful at fomenting ethnic hatred in the name of national struggle to advance their aims of conquest and maximum profit. Today the Kurdish people, the Somali people, the Bengali people, the Tamil people, the Palestinian people, the Serbian people, and so many others cry out for Stalinist leadership to unite the oppressed and exploited against their internationalist imperialist enemy.
In this milieu, the demand of the international communist movement for ‘Justice for Mumia’ must once again boldly raise the nationalities question as it relates to self determination for the Afro-American people within the belly of the beast — the US multinational state itself! Focus on Mumia thus also leads to support for the Puerto Rican people in their effort to kick the US military out of Vieques and to support for the freedom from prison of Native American leader Leonard Peltier. This demand can help the new international communist movement once again rally the oppressed nations and peoples in their struggles for self determination against international imperialism and help turn them once again into strategic reserves of the proletarian revolution, as in the Lenin-Stalin period.
3) Mumia and the Era of Negotiations - 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 nonviolent politics a leadership above criticism. Today, within the movement for justice for Mumia, there is a strong ‘non-violent’ influence of revisionists, trotskyites, liberals, pacifists, et al. which promotes bourgeois legalism and anti-death penalty pacifism at the expense of anti-police brutality and popular justice won, in the first place, in the streets.
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 proved successful precisely because the international communist movement had by the late 1960’s become dominated by revisionists in state power in the USSR and in China which had ceased its own anti-revisionist polemics against the rightist Soviet revisionists with the advent of the ultra leftist ‘cultural revolution’ in 1966. Furthermore, the demise of the Black Liberation struggle in the USA allowed US imperialism to create illusions about its ability to deal peacefully with the oppressed and exploited of the earth. The liquidationist tendency in the international communist movement from Browder to Tito to Khrushchev to Teng et al. included the liquidation of the Afro-American national question as the ‘flip side’ of the rapprochement of each of these revisionist traitors with US imperialism.
Thus, the assassination of M.L. King in early 1968 and the crocodile tears of the US ruling class provided President Johnson and US imperialism the opportunity to begin an ‘era of negotiations’ first with the Afro-American freedom movement but then, quickly with the USSR and with China and ultimately the peoples of Indo-China and the world’s peoples. The political isolation which US imperialism had experienced under the pressure of the heroic Vietnamese peoples liberation movement was ended. US imperialism created a wedge between the USSR and China and among the Indochinese Peoples. It became the envy of the world, achieving hegemony with its music, movies, media, morality, etc. along with and in concert with its military, political and economic power.
Support for Justice for Mumia by the communists of the world means support for principled leadership, for criticism and self-criticism among the Afro-American leadership in the USA as well as a fight for principle among the communist organizations and leaders of today who still recognize the necessity for struggle against US imperialism. Communist support for Justice for Mumia means an end to the ‘era of negotiations’ and a resumption of a concerted, co-ordinated revolutionary struggle for proletarian power against the main enemy of the international proletariat and the oppressed peoples— imperialism, headed by US imperialism.
For more information on Justice for Mumia write to Ray O. Light at:
Boxholder DLD 354
58 Batterymarch St.
Boston, MA 02110
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