No FBI raids! Defend free speech and the right to organize!

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A STATEMENT by WORKERS’ VOICE

In the early hours of July 29, federal agencies staged raids on offices and homes associated with the African People’s Socialist Party (APSP) and allied organizations. The raids also targeted the People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement (Uhuru) and African Peoples Solidarity Committee offices in St. Louis and in St. Petersburg, Fla. The militarized attacks included the use of flash grenades and agents dressed in tactical gear and carrying rifles.

Speaking on Black Power Media with host Jared Ball, APSP chair Omali Yeshitela: described the early morning raid: “The United States government at 5 o’clock on the morning, Friday, attacked my house in St. Louis. They came to the house and blocked the street with an armored vehicle in front of my house, yelled on loudspeakers that people who were in the house come out with our hands up and started exploding flash-bang grenades all over the place … so we didn’t know what was happening, and they said ‘this is the FBI, come out with your hands up, nothing in your hands…’ So, I felt like there’s a good possibility that they were going to kill the people in the house.”

Yeshitela said that he asked to be shown a search warrant when he was arrested, but only saw one later after returning to his home. The FBI claims that the raids are linked to the federal indictment of a Russian man, Aleksandr Ionov, who allegedly used links with the APSP and allied groups to spread election disinformation. Computers belonging to individuals and the organizations were seized. Also seized were the records and archives of the APSP going back decades.

“Ain’t no Russian been responsible for what we face everyday in our lives,” Yeshitela stated. “[The U.S.] is going to say that the Russians somehow had to tell us that we are being oppressed. … [The U.S. is] telling the world that Black people don’t have enough sense to be able to lead our own struggle, but that’s not true.”

The repression against the APSP is not an isolated incident. In the recent period, federal, state, and local governments have ramped up their attacks on the democratic rights of workers, oppressed people, and activists. After every social explosion in recent years, the capitalist authorities have decreased formal legal protections for protesting. In the wake of the Standing Rock pipe-line occupations, new laws have been introduced allowing for increased repression of Indigenous and climate activists, shown with the brutal police violence used against anti-Line 3 demonstrators.

State repression nothing new

The U.S. government has frequently acted to constrict civil liberties—including basic rights of free speech and association—in periods of war or national crisis. Governmental authorities have used these occasions to especially target socialists and militant working-class fighters. This was seen during the World War I-era “Red Scare,” for example, when hundreds of socialists, anarchists, labor activists, and antiwar advocates were jailed or deported, and left parties were forced to operate underground. In 1918, Congress passed the Sedition Act, which made it illegal to criticize the U.S. government.

In 1941, as the U.S. geared up for war once again, the leadership of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and militant Teamster union activists were charged with violating the accords of the reactionary Smith Act and tried for sedition in Minneapolis. During the federal trial, George Novack wrote in The Militant, “The Minneapolis trial is not an ordinary criminal proceeding; it is from start to finish a political prosecution. These working men and women are being tried in a capitalist court under reactionary anti-labor laws for daring to oppose Roosevelt’s war-policies and for defending the rights and interests of the working class. Their struggle against the official forces of reaction is an integral part of the fight of the American people and of organized labor to maintain their democratic rights. Only the mass protest of labor backed up by the pressure of liberal opinion can force the government to free these victims of capitalist persecution and prevent further assaults upon labor organizations and the Bill of Rights.”

The SWP was able to mount a broad civil liberties defense campaign, but tragically, the major labor union leadership and the Communist Party refused to back these efforts, and the defendants were convicted and sent to prison. Less than a decade later, during the witch hunt led by Senator Joe McCarthy, the Communist Party was itself persecuted under the Smith Act. Thousands of people were harassed, blacklisted, or fired from their jobs, and close to 100 were sent to prison in that period; Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed on trumped-up charges of acting as Russian spies. Although some trade unions were destroyed, the compliant labor union leadership again stood by without significant protest.

It was only with the revival of mass protests in the late 1950s and ’60s—in the Black civil rights movement, the Vietnam antiwar movement, etc.—that the rights of free speech and association began to become slightly more secure. Nevertheless, movement activists could not let down their guard; the FBI and other police agencies continued to operate against forces that they believed were a threat. As the Black freedom struggle surged during the 1960s, the FBI was implicated in the murders of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Fred Hampton and numerous other members of the Black Panther Party. The FBI’s COINTELPRO program infiltrated and disrupted left organizations and Black liberation groups at every level. Framed-up members of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army (BLA) remain in prison to this day.

Moreover, this period witnessed the Chicago police riot against antiwar protesters in 1968, the Kent State and Jackson State massacres by National Guard troops in 1970, the Attica prison massacre in 1971, the frame-up trial of Angela Davis and other prison activists, and the killing of two Indigenous protesters by federal marshals at Wounded Knee, in the Pine Ridge Reservation, in 1973. The oppression at Pine Ridge led to the railroading of a leading member of the American Indian Movement, Leonard Peltier, to prison in 1977 for allegedly killing two FBI agents.

Federal operatives continued the disruption of Black liberation and radical organizations in subsequent years. In 1979, Klansmen and members of the American Nazi Party attacked an anti-Klan march in Greensboro, N.C.; five members of the Communist Workers Party were murdered in the attack. It was later revealed that an Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agent had infiltrated the Nazis and encouraged them to go to Greensboro, while a police and federal informant participated in Klan meetings that planned the attack, where he urged armed action against communists. In 1985, Philadelphia police firebombed the house of the MOVE organization, killing 11 people. A special agent of the FBI had supplied the cops with the C-4 explosives prior to the bombing.

In 2010, the FBI raided the homes and offices of people associated with the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO) and antiwar organizations they work with. At the time, the government tried to allege that FRSO and some of the antiwar groupings they were involved with were allied with “terrorism.” At the time, one of the targeted activists, Tom Burke, said: “The government hopes to use a grand jury to frame up activists. The goal of these raids is to harass and try to intimidate the movement against U.S. wars and occupations, and those who oppose U.S. support for repressive regimes. They are designed to suppress dissent and free speech, to divide the peace movement, and to pave the way for more U.S. military intervention in the Middle East and Latin America.”

The “democratic” United States has repressive legislation on the books that targets the left, organized labor, and oppressed nationalities. These laws were passed with the support of both capitalist parties. The so-called PATRIOT Act, passed in 2001, allows for extensive political spying, often without warrants or any “probable cause,” while expanding the government’s ability to detain suspects. In the wake of the mass explosion following the murder of George Floyd, states have passed anti-protest legislation and, in some cases, laws absolving motorists of liability if they ram their cars into protesters.

Unconditional defense and solidarity

It is necessary to unconditionally defend political victims against any and all attacks on civil liberties and the right to organize. For Workers’ Voice, this includes defending forces with which we have political differences, including on the question of Russian imperialism’s invasion of Ukraine. State repression against the APSP today can easily become state repression against others tomorrow.

Those who dare to stand for Palestinian self-determination or for the reunification of Ireland can easily be painted with the brush of extremism and victimized. Similarly, those who maintain political relations with revolutionists in Latin America or Europe could be accused of association with foreign “assets.” The pretext of so-called national security is used against opponents of U.S. imperialism and capitalism as a way to try to stigmatize these movements in the eyes of working people, and in that manner, to divide any working-class fightback movement.

One of the central principles of the labor movement is “an injury to one is an injury to all.” It’s clear that the current raids have the purpose of stigmatizing Black liberation groups and those who disagree with U.S. foreign policy. The growth of the national security state is one symptom of the polarization in capitalist society. As capitalism experiences multiple crises, the capitalist class will use any means necessary to preserve their power and privilege.

Socialists have no illusions in the capitalist courts, police, and politicians. We know that bourgeois democracy is merely a screen for the dictatorship of one class over the rest of us. Those who would challenge this set up will necessarily become the targets of a state power that exists to defend the ruling class and its interests—unless we fight back. Defense of democratic rights is an urgent task for all of us.

Solidarity with the African People’s Socialist Party (APSP), the Uhuru Movement, and allied organizations! Support their right to express their beliefs and to associate with people of their choosing in this country and abroad! Condemn the raids! No to political repression and intimidation!

Photo: Omali Yeshitela, chairman of the African People’s Socialist Party.

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