Workers Vanguard No. 1127
9 February 2018
Spartacist Speaker at NYC Holiday Appeal
Black Oppression: What Makes America America
The following speech, edited for publication, was delivered by Spartacist speaker Laura Zamora at the Partisan Defense Committee’s 32nd annual Holiday Appeal for Class-War Prisoners in New York City on January 27.
On New Year’s Day, a few of us woke up to messages reassuring us that “this year will be better.” I found this 2018 catchphrase rather annoying and anti-scientific—Marxists don’t believe in crystal balls. I also knew why people were cursing last year, and it ends with the word Trump. One year into this new chapter of the evil empire, the U.S. rulers have continued their war against working people, the poor, black people, immigrants, women, gay and trans people. They’ve kept up their imperialist wars and occupations against the poor and dispossessed abroad.
Liberals are very fond of blaming everything on the Orange Vader Trump, as if nothing like this has happened before. Trump is, after all, an easy target—the big bully of racist American capitalism. He shows the rulers’ most primal urge for profit and power without the hypocritical pretense of “democratic values.” We’re in a midterm year; the Democrats say: “Take our country back.” Take it back? This country was founded through racist bloodshed, the genocide of Native Americans. U.S. capitalism was built upon the backs of black people—from slavery to convict labor, from the chain gang to the assembly line. Both Republicans and Democrats rule in the interest of the capitalist class and its profit system: the difference is that one party is better at putting lipstick on the pig. When we hear people talking about the “resistance” these days, it’s just about resisting Trump and the Republicans. It’s not about resisting the misery, exploitation and bigotry inherent to the capitalist order.
To use Trump’s word, the “shithole” is capitalist America. It has always been so for those at the bottom. About 5.3 million Americans live on less than four dollars a day. Some 30 million have no health insurance. Women in the U.S. are more likely to die from childbirth- or pregnancy-related causes than anywhere else in the industrialized world—black women at three times the rate of white women. The U.S. locks up more people than any other country. And we know who they lock up: courageous fighters like Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier and other class-war prisoners. Nearly 3,000 people are on death row. One in every nine people in prison is serving a life sentence, nearly half of them black. Meanwhile, the local cops are attacking protesters and killing people as much as they were last year and the year before and the year before that. The Feds are smearing black activists and radicals as “domestic terrorists,” setting them up for repression.
The capitalist class at the top, a tiny fraction of the “1 percent,” keeps making a killing while the laborers who sweat and toil get their wages slashed. And those whose countries have been wrecked by U.S. imperialism—they make a harrowing escape, come here to work for small change and live in fear of deportation. Anyone who has made it to this country should get all the rights of anyone already here. Our demand is for full citizenship rights for all immigrants.
Trump inherited a well-oiled deportation machine from the plantation’s first black overseer. Under Obama, we saw the expansion of nightmare detention centers, a “fast track” system for arrests and millions of deportations. Trump is explicit about his aims and has a loud mouth; Obama was the smart sugarcoater, the quiet enemy.
To get a measure of Washington’s contempt for those it dominates, look at Puerto Rico. Four months after Hurricane Maria, 40 percent of the island still has no electricity. On top of that: massive debt, taken out of the hides of working people; government services slashed; hobbled medical care and transportation; foreclosures. How does one breathe under this weight of a colonial master who loots you, lets you rot, then stomps on your tattered remains? Puerto Ricans are an important part of the working class and union movement here in the U.S. American workers should side with their Puerto Rican class brothers and sisters—they have a common class enemy. Cancel Puerto Rico’s debt! For the right of independence!
Imagine telling workers of countries plundered by imperialism like Puerto Rico that national sovereignty doesn’t matter, or that they have to suck it up and remain at the mercy of the overlords’ banks. That’s what it means to tell Greek workers that they should stay in the European Union (EU), an imperialist cartel where the European powers, especially Germany, dominate the weaker states. We are for breaking up this capitalist trade bloc. This is why we not only call for Greece to get out of the EU, but also welcomed the Brexit vote. The vote for Britain to leave the EU was a blow against the bosses and bankers of Europe—including those in the City of London, who lord it over workers in Britain.
And to those who point out how the hardcore racists and fascists seized on the Brexit vote to step up their race-hate provocations, I will say this: the answer to racist terror and anti-immigrant chauvinism does not lie in looking to the so-called good graces of the EU, which implements austerity and sets up immigrant concentration camps. The answer is mobilizing the multiracial and multinational proletariat at the head of all the oppressed.
That is definitely what needs to be done here in the U.S. In the last year, the race-terrorists, and that filth around the “alt-right,” have been taking their cue from the White House. They’ve fed off economic devastation. The new fascist organizations in the U.S. are small, but they’re growing, armed and dangerous. Their ultimate aim is racial genocide and the destruction of unions and the left.
The misery and discontent of the working class and oppressed can fuel the rise of a fighting workers movement. We talk about how organized labor must urgently mobilize to stop the fascists. Labor has a great weapon: its social power, numbers, collective organization and ability to choke off profits through strike action. In the factories, the transit barns and on the docks, the workplace remains the main site of integration in racist America, where the majority of black people remain a forcibly segregated race-color caste at the bottom.
The early union misleaders’ refusal to organize black workers gave the bosses the ability to use them against the unions—to the benefit of no one but the racist capitalists. It took organizing white and black workers side by side to forge the industrial unions in the 1930s, building picket lines that no scab dared cross.
If an integrated militant fight by organized labor seems improbable today, it’s because this generation has seen little to no real union struggle. Why is union membership half of what it was 30 years ago? How did the bosses get away with implementing “right to work” laws in 28 states? The trade-union misleaders bear much of this responsibility. They have fed patriotism and protectionist poison and begged the politicians for the right to live. They have chained the working class to the Democratic Party and therefore to its class enemy.
Yes, its enemy. When the Commander-in-Chief is an unabashed chauvinist and bigot, we have to remember who all our enemies are. The Democrats would have you believe that the nemesis is Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, who supposedly organized an army of hackers and trolls to subvert American “democracy.” Not so fast. The Trump-Russia collusion story is a big distraction by the same media pundits who manufacture the lies for war abroad. Malcolm X called the media the most powerful entity on earth that can “make the innocent guilty” and “make the guilty innocent.”
So, when the bourgeois media becomes the judge, jury and executioner against anyone accused of sexual misconduct, it should cause some apprehension. Sexual harassment is a serious problem; sexual assault and rape are serious crimes—and they’re regularly covered up in the workplace, in the military, and especially in the prisons. But the mainstream #MeToo movement has flattened any distinction between trivial acts—which very well could be offensive and unpleasant—and criminal acts. The media treats anything from a wink to a sleazeball comment like an act of coercion and violence, convicting all suspects without any due process. And that never bodes well for anyone outside bourgeois convention and especially not for black men, who are the main victims of lynch mob “justice” in this country.
The anti-Trump “resistance” gave birth to the liberal feminist #MeToo movement we see today. It was a way for the Democrats to keep up the ruse that Hillary Clinton—that imperialist hawk and wolf of Wall Street—represented some kind of advancement for women, and to pretend that they defend women’s rights. It was also a way for the Democrats to go after the “pussy grabber in chief” for his morals. Meanwhile, the rulers can get on with their crimes: nuclear war threats, union-busting, and, don’t forget, the gutting of abortion rights. Despite the formal existence of Roe v. Wade, 43 states outlaw most abortions after a certain point in pregnancy. There are more than 1,000 state restrictions making it impossible for the vast majority of women to have the procedure. One-third of those restrictions were enacted in the past seven years.
Where was the “resistance” when access to abortion was being dismantled? Where was the “resistance” when Obama deported more people than any other president in U.S. history? Where was the “resistance” when the livelihoods of black and working people were being destroyed by Wall Street? We want there to be protests and opposition to the depravities of this system. But this “resistance” is really about getting the Democrats back into the halls of power. And in power, they will try to crush us as they’ve always done. They will use any means to divide working people, primarily through race.
What makes America America is the all-sided brutal oppression of black people. To sweep away this rotting, decaying America means shattering this oppression. It’s in the interests of all workers, including white workers and immigrants, to take up this fight. The struggle for black liberation through socialist revolution is also a struggle for the liberation of all the working masses, women and all the oppressed in this country.
That is why any discontent needs to be directed against the capitalist class enemy, independently of the Democrats and other false friends. Our goal is for the working class to take power, to become the ruling class through workers revolution, as the workers did in Russia through the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. The continuity of revolutionary Marxism, of communism, is Trotskyism. Only with a Trotskyist program and the establishment of an egalitarian socialist society will the resources of society be able to be used for the benefit of all. For such a struggle to go forward to victory, we need to build a multiracial revolutionary workers party. Join the Spartacist League to make future years, future generations, better.