Workers Vanguard No. 871
26 May 2006
Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!
Labor and the Fight for Immigrant Rights
Break with the Democrats! Build a Revolutionary Workers Party!
Facing a barrage of calls from the Republican right to crack down on illegal aliens, President Bush last week announced his intention to deploy some 6,000 more National Guardsmen to help police the border with Mexico. While Democratic Party politicians have been prominent in recent protests against a Republican House bill that would criminalize all undocumented immigrants and those who provide them assistance, the Democrats have joined with many Republicans in pushing through an alternative package of repressive measures. Last week, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to add nearly 400 miles of border walls, along with 500 miles of vehicle barriers, and, in a 99-0 vote, to deny the possibility of citizenship to those who have been convicted of criminal offenses or have ignored deportation orders.
By a nearly two-to-one margin, the Senate also tacked on an amendment to its pending immigration bill recognizing English as the national language, specifically denying any right for government agencies or officials to provide information or services in other languages. As Marxist opponents of chauvinist bigotry, we stand for full equality of all languages in all spheres of public life, defending, for example, bilingual education. No to English-only laws!
The governments moves to step up the militarization of the border have provoked a storm of outrage in Mexico. With the July presidential elections looming, even Mexicos right-wing president Vicente Fox, who used to parade his friendship with Bush, has felt compelled to issue an official protest against the border wall and National Guard proposals. Foxs government has also called for an investigation into the May 18 killing of a Mexican driver by two federal agents in California near the border crossing.
We print below a presentation, edited for publication, by Spartacist League spokesman Diana Coleman at a May 6 forum in Los Angeles. Her presentation began with the Woody Guthrie song, Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee).
* * *
The crops are all in and the peaches are rottning,
The oranges piled in their creosote dumps;
Theyre flying em back to the Mexican border
To pay all their money to wade back again
The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon,
A fireball of lightning, and shook all our hills,
Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, They are just deportees.
This is a song by Woody Guthrie written in 1948. Like many of Guthries songs, it was written about a real incident: that is, a plane that left from the Oakland airport, carrying unnamed immigrants who were being deported, crashed in the California hills, killing all aboard. As the song says, The radio said they were just deportees. I will comment that this was under the administration, not of a Republican, but a Democrat, Truman. And the bracero program, the work program of indentured servitude that Guthrie is speaking of, was started by that icon of Democratic Party liberalism, against whom all others are measured, Franklin D. Roosevelt. The question of the Democratic Party is going to come up several times in the course of this talk.
As millions of impoverished Mexican and Central American immigrants risk their lives to find some means of livelihood in the U.S., the racist U.S. imperialist rulers are proposing a spate of new anti-immigrant measures and seeking to blame the immiseration of the U.S. working class on immigrants. All of the proposals are anti-immigrant. Needless to say, the governments war on immigrants has given the green light to armed, fascistic, extralegal vigilante mobilizations against immigrants.
These racist proposals, particularly the giant wall proposal, which is a monstrosity similar to that built by the Zionist state in the West Bank, have provoked massive outrage in the U.S., Mexico, and even El Salvador. Millions marched on this May Day, which we think is a good sign. We wish people would start marching on May Day. After all, its a workers holiday that started here in the U.S. The Spartacist League/U.S. and the Grupo Espartaquista de México, both sections of the International Communist League, put out a joint statement [reprinted in WV No. 867, 21 March] which we have been handing out in mass quantities to the immigrant rights demos. The statement calls for unity in struggle of the U.S. and Mexican working class, no deportations, full citizenship rights for all immigrants, and socialist revolution on both sides of the border.
Across the Atlantic, in France, after more than two months of mass protests and widespread strikes, the French government had to scrap the First Employment Contract (CPE), which was also an attack on immigrants and the children of immigrants. The CPE stipulated that workers under 26 years of age be subject to a two-year probationary period, during which they could be fired without any cause. This threatened job security and hard-won union gains for all workers, especially minorities. It was particularly directed against minority youth in the suburbs, who are victims of cop terror, discrimination and massive unemployment. While the racist press in France calls these youth immigrants, actually most of them were born and raised in France. They are the children and grandchildren of the immigrant workers who came to France in the 60s and 70s from the countries of Frances former colonial empire, centrally North Africa.
The scrapping of the CPE is a victory. When the working class entered the scene with strikes, it changed the entire situation and showed the power of the working class. The government is coming out of the struggle weakened. Many students and workers want to continue the struggle until the whole racist act of which the CPE is a part is scrapped. Now, France and the U.S. are different. But they also have much in common. There are lessons from each as to how it is necessary to fight and what is needed to end exploitation and oppression internationally.
We start from the standpoint that only socialist revolution internationally can put an end to the growing immiseration of the toiling masses—both in dependent countries like Mexico and in the imperialist centers. The fundamental divide in all capitalist countries is between the working class, whose labor makes society run, and the capitalist class that reaps enormous wealth from exploiting that labor. Under capitalist imperialism, a handful of wealthy industrial powers strive to divide and redivide the rest of the world for their own aggrandizement, leading to neocolonial exploitation and imperialist wars, of which we have seen quite a few. As we explained in the International Communist League Declaration of Principles [Spartacist (English-language edition) No. 54, Spring 1998]:
Modern capitalism, i.e., imperialism, reaching into all areas of the planet, in the course of the class struggle and as economic need demands, brings into the proletariat at its bottom new sources of cheaper labor, principally immigrants from poorer and less-developed regions of the world—workers with few rights who are deemed more disposable in times of economic contraction. Thus capitalism in ongoing fashion creates different strata among the workers, while simultaneously amalgamating the workers of many different lands. Everywhere, the capitalists, abetted by aristocracy-of-labor opportunists, try to poison class consciousness and solidarity among the workers by fomenting religious, national and ethnic divisions. The struggle for the unity and integrity of the working class against chauvinism and racism is thus a vital task for the proletarian vanguard.
So thats sort of a theme of this talk: the unity and integrity of the working class. We fight for this against chauvinism and racism because this is a vital task for the proletarian vanguard that must lead the fight for socialist revolution internationally. As Karl Marx said more than 150 years ago, the workers of the world have no fatherland. This perspective also requires an uncompromising fight for the class independence of the proletariat from all wings of the capitalist exploiters; and in the U.S., that chiefly means breaking the ties that bind labor and the oppressed to the Democratic Party.
Immigrants and the War on Terror
Now, the context of this bipartisan war on immigrants is a bipartisan war on terror which is really a war on immigrants, blacks, workers and democratic rights in general in the U.S. and a pretext for neocolonial wars and occupations abroad. There has been an all-out capitalist assault on jobs, wages, unions, health care, pensions, education, and every meager social benefit that this country has ever provided. And then there are the police-state measures of every variety: the torture chambers around the world, rendition, domestic spying at an unprecedented level, the USA Patriot Act, the Maritime Security Act, disappearing people, declaring citizens to be enemy combatants with no rights—all of this no longer covert, but justified aggressively!
Now I read in the New York Times that the U.S. government is saying they dont want to send people back from Guantánamo because they might be mistreated in their home countries! I mean, hypocrisy doesnt even describe this. Look at the persecution of immigrants from Muslim countries, like this vicious frame-up of the young Pakistani man and his father in Lodi, California. The U.S. government would have you believe the top leaders of Al Qaeda are making the pilgrimage to Lodi, California! Ive heard some tall tales in my life, but this one takes the cake.
Abroad, its U.S. imperialisms bloody war on Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq was one of the most advanced countries of the Middle East; the mass murderers who run this country have massacred its people and destroyed its infrastructure. We called for defense of Iraq during the Iraq war and now we call for the unconditional withdrawal of the U.S. from Iraq and Afghanistan and for class struggle at home against the capitalist rulers carrying out these imperialist depredations. We call for Hands off Iran, currently in the U.S.s gun sights, and hope to hell they do have nuclear weapons, because thats the only thing that U.S. imperialism respects.
All of this is very much related to the ascendancy of counterrevolution in the former Soviet Union, a bureaucratically degenerated workers state. Its demise was a world-historic defeat for working people all over the world, decisively altering the political landscape on this planet. No longer challenged by Soviet military might, U.S. imperialism has declared a one-superpower world, running roughshod over the whole world. In France, as in all of West Europe, the capitalist governments are trying to overturn the remains of the so-called welfare state—social measures introduced mostly during the anti-Soviet Cold War by a ruling class fearful of the spectre of social revolution. And in Russia the working people starve. We fought for unconditional military defense of the Soviet Union against imperialism and internal counterrevolution, and for proletarian political revolution to oust the bureaucracy and return the USSR to the revolutionary road of Lenin and Trotsky.
Immigrant Rights Protests and the Democrats
Now after this probably too-long introduction, let me get back to todays immigration struggles. There has been massive immigration to the U.S. in the past decade: 12.1 percent of the population of the U.S. was born in another country. This is the highest figure since 1920 (San Francisco Chronicle, 2 May). It is now estimated that there are nearly 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., about half of them from Mexico, another quarter from Central and Latin America, the remaining quarter from a variety of different Asian and European countries.
But the really significant date here is 1994 and the imposition of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. Our U.S., Canadian and Mexican sections wrote a joint statement beforehand, where we said: Yankee imperialism gears up for global trade war—Stop the U.S. free trade rape of Mexico. We were so right: As a direct result of this agreement, millions of Mexicans were forced out of the countryside, leading to a huge increase in urban poverty in Mexico and mass migration by millions of desperate immigrants to the U.S. looking for work. It is estimated that 10 percent of the Mexican population now lives in the U.S., and the $20 billion they send home annually is Mexicos third-largest source of income. Meanwhile, the Mexican rulers cry crocodile tears over the plight of Mexican immigrants. But this is simply a smokescreen to cover exploitation and oppression by a parasitic Mexican bourgeoisie. None of the bourgeois parties in Mexico opposed NAFTA.
What is hopeful and encouraging in the recent period is that in marked contrast to the past, there has been an outpouring of millions of immigrant protesters, despite their vulnerability to government victimization. Millions took to the streets on May 1 in the largest coordinated demonstrations since the Vietnam War. Many Tyson Meat and Perdue chicken processing factories were closed. The port in L.A. was described by the San Francisco Chronicle as eerily quiet, as the mostly immigrant, but still not unionized, port truckers shut it down. Good for them! Across California there was a big student boycott. And, of course, the U.S. government has stepped up deportations in a clear attempt at intimidation, rounding up nearly 1,200 people in one big sweep. The Department of Homeland Security, which had no interest whatsoever in saving black people in New Orleans, promises to be quite efficient when it comes to deporting Hispanic people and sending a message that they better not go to the demos.
Look at these protests: massive demos of desperate and brave Hispanic immigrants fighting for their rights but carrying the red, white and blue of U.S. imperialism and led by the reactionary Catholic church hierarchy and a bunch of Democratic Party capitalist politicians. The Catholic church—an all-sided force for reaction. People here in L.A. could probably speak more specifically than me, but Cardinal Mahony has his own history as a union-buster.
One of the main slogans of the marches has been: Today we march, tomorrow we vote, a clear attempt to steer anger at the Republican-led efforts to criminalize immigrants into the Democratic Party. But it was Clintons 1996 immigration reform that allowed the deportation of even longtime permanent residents for the most trivial of offenses. It was Clintons Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act that vastly expanded the racist death penalty and set up star-chamber courts to deport immigrants without even allowing their lawyers to see the evidence, such as it was. It was Clintons Operation Gatekeeper that further militarized the San Diego border, resulting each year in the deaths of hundreds crossing the border in remote desert areas.
The Democratic Party is a capitalist party, representing the class enemy. We fight for a revolutionary workers party. And on this point I will here comment: Do you want to know what the very reformist International Socialist Organization (ISO), for example, says about the immigrant marches? Potentially, the movement can break the logjam of U.S. politics, in which the Republicans launch attack after attack with little or no response from the Democrats (Socialist Worker, 31 March). Thats what the ISO is really about: getting the Democrats to respond. For them the point of any movement is to pressure the Democrats to fight for the people. The Democrats may occasionally posture as the friends of labor, immigrants and blacks, the better to hoodwink them. But they are, no less than the Republicans, a capitalist party.
So on to the bills: HR 4437 is the bill, sponsored by Republican Congressman Sensenbrenner and passed by the House of Representatives in December, that would build the 700-mile wall and make it a felony to be an undocumented immigrant or provide any assistance to one. Ive been taking classes on how to teach English as a Second Language, and someone made a presentation to my class noting that all of us would-be ESL teachers could wind up in jail. That certainly caught my attention!
What the rally organizers are mostly pushing are alternatives mostly based on bipartisan legislation proposed by Kennedy and McCain. Kennedys Web site touts this bill as having tough enforcement measures, and believe me, he isnt kidding. The bill would double the number of border patrol agents, add 5,000 immigration cops to hunt illegals in interior states, require Homeland Security to build 20 concentration camps capable of holding 10,000 detainees, and add a bunch of high-tech stuff along the border. Its much-vaunted path to citizenship is practically unachievable; it includes significant fines and fees, requires impeccable English and no arrests in this racist society, and you can never have acted adversely to U.S. foreign policy. So, all of you out there who attended those antiwar rallies, you would certainly not be eligible for citizenship. And if Bush has his way, you may yet be declared an enemy combatant.
The cornerstone of this bill—presumably the liberal part—is the guest worker program under which hundreds of thousands of immigrants would be assigned to, and at the mercy of, particular employers. Denied elementary rights, forced to slave in inhuman conditions, never able to become a citizen, then sent back. Weve said its a form of indentured servitude, and thats so clear. The current wrangling over immigration reform is entirely within the framework of capitalist interests. On the one hand are the right-wing anti-immigrant ideologues, including those Republicans who hope to ride anti-immigrant chauvinism in the November Congressional elections. On the other hand, there is a wide swath, which goes from the Bush White House and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to most of the Democratic Party, that speaks for those capitalists who depend on the labor of immigrant workers and are pushing various guest worker programs. The Kennedy-McCain bill speaks for California agribusiness and sweatshop owners from here to New York, whose slogan is Use em, abuse em, and send them back.
Mobilize Labors Power!
The AFL-CIO leadership is opposed to expanding guest worker provisions. But they certainly dont call for citizenship rights, and they dont oppose further militarization of the border. And the Change to Win split-off, which includes the heavily Latino SEIU service employees and UNITE HERE hotel, restaurant and garment workers unions, is worse yet. They are for a guest worker program, and Anna Burger, the head of Change to Win, rants and raves about beefing up the border to prevent illegal immigration. The Teamsters bureaucracy, another component of Change to Win, is notorious for its chauvinist campaigns against Mexican truckers using U.S. highways. Let me comment that when NAFTA was first proposed in the early 90s, the AFL-CIO bureaucracy denounced it very much from the standpoint of gross, chauvinist protectionism.
All of these labor bureaucrats accept and defend the capitalist profit system and identify with the national interests of U.S. imperialism. They tie the unions to the class enemy through the medium of the Democratic Party. Daniel De Leon, an early American socialist, aptly called these bureaucrats the labor lieutenants of capital. Their class collaboration has led to defeat after defeat. It is the task of the revolutionary party to educate the workers so they can politically oust these misleaders and set the unions on the path of class struggle against the capitalists and their whole system.
A symptom of the grave weakness of the U.S. labor movement today was that there was no organized union presence and banners at any of the big immigrant rights rallies. An article in the Los Angeles Times (3 May) commented: Organized labors money, muscle and mobilizing expertise played an instrumental role in managing the myriad details involved in the two Los Angeles marches. Thats true, labor put up the porta-potties and built the stage, and contributed money. The working class was present but it was not mobilized on a class basis. It was dissolved into the classless people, and therefore the marchers did not express their power as a class. This was deliberate; the bureaucrats dont want organized labor to start thinking about expressing its demands through general strikes. And I will comment on the 12,000 longshoremen on the West Coast. When they vote, thats nothing. When they go on strike and shut down every port on the West Coast, that has immense social power. But the trade-union bureaucracy does not want that power mobilized.
What is needed in the U.S. is a class-struggle mobilization to organize the unorganized, including undocumented workers, into the unions with full rights and protections. The potential for this was seen in the strike by the supermarket workers right here in Southern California in 2003-2004. Had the union tops really tried to extend this strike nationally and enlist Teamster truck drivers to halt shipments to the supermarkets and warehouses, that strike could have been a resounding victory. Such a victory would have paved the way for a successful drive to organize Wal-Mart. That in turn would have had an immediate impact in Mexico, where Wal-Mart is the largest private employer.
During the grocery workers strike, when la migra rounded up 250 undocumented Wal-Mart workers, the Spartacist League said, Free the rounded-up Wal-Mart workers! No deportations! But the United Food and Commercial Workers bureaucracy, which says it wants to organize these workers, did nothing to mobilize the union on their behalf. Rising to the defense of such workers is the only way to undercut the company and their government in their anti-union maneuvers. Some years ago, the Spartacist League wrote an excellent piece called Labors Gotta Play Hardball to Win. In it, we wrote, No decisive gain of labor was ever won in a courtroom or by an act of Congress. Everything the workers movement has won of value has been achieved by mobilizing the ranks of labor in hard-fought struggle on the picket lines, in plant occupations. So true!
Earlier I spoke about the struggles in France, which has a considerably more combative working class. But the class struggle in itself does not solve the crisis of leadership. The union bureaucrats are happy to let the struggle stop and have planned no further strikes to support the students demands, which virtually assures that the bulk of the law will be implemented. The union bureaucrats in league with the reformist workers parties even got into violence-baiting minority youth protesters, buying into the racist government campaign labeling such youth with the racist code word hooligans. The leaderships of the opposition Socialist Party and Communist Party are seeking to use the crisis of the rightist government in order to put together a new popular front—that is, a class-collaborationist alliance with capitalist parties—to run in next years elections and administer capitalism for the capitalists. In contrast, our comrades in France have intervened with a proletarian, revolutionary and internationalist program pointing to the need to fight for socialist revolution.
California: Immigration and Racist Reaction
I want to speak about several aspects of immigration to the U.S., centering on California, which still has the most undocumented immigrants of any state. The recurring pattern of capitalist countries, which is especially clear in the U.S., is that when there is a need for labor, when the economy is expanding, the capitalists attract and recruit workers from poor countries. But when the economy slows down, they deliberately incite anti-immigrant hysteria in order to cut off the flow of immigrants.
This is very clear from a tragic and important chapter of California history. When gold was discovered in California in 1848, there was an immediate demand for labor. There were no railroads connecting California with the more populous East Coast, and overland travel was very expensive. Work in the mines eventually dried up, but by then, after the Civil War, the American capitalists had embarked on a large and very necessary project: the building of the transcontinental railroad. The mine owners imported laborers from China, who were practically slave labor. It was mainly Chinese immigrants who built the western branch and Irish immigrants who built the eastern branch.
But once the railroads were built and the cost of transportation became much lower, there was a big flood of white Europeans into California. There was the beginning of a workers movement, and the local capitalists, many of them fabulously wealthy from the gold strikes, diverted the workers movement against the Chinese. In his book Reconstruction, Americas Unfinished Revolution, Eric Foner writes: In California, where indentured Chinese immigrants by 1870 constituted a quarter of the wage labor force, the agitation for their exclusion, more than any other issue, shaped the labor movements development. So in the 1870s and 80s there was a series of violent anti-Chinese riots up and down the West Coast. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, cutting off further immigration, which was not reversed until the 1940s. They no longer needed the Chinese, who at one point had been absolutely critical to the development of American capitalism.
I will comment that the bourgeoisie is capable of taking advantage of even the most tragic natural disasters to further its aims, as is clear in New Orleans today as they try to whiten the city. Let me give you an example you may not have heard about. In the San Francisco Chronicle, there have been endless articles about the 1906 earthquake, marking the 100 year anniversary. The Chronicle did not deem fit to tell us that the city fathers of San Francisco tried to take the occasion of the destruction of Chinatown in the earthquake to grab this valuable downtown land from the Chinese and move them to Hunters Point, then the site of slaughterhouses. As Simon Winchester comments in his book A Crack in the Edge of the World:
By mid-April the Chinese legation in Washington had made it abundantly clear that no less a figure than the Dowager Empress herself, speaking from deep within the Forbidden City, had demanded that her people be housed where they had long wished to be housed. To underline the issue, the legation (which sent an official party to San Francisco) pointed out that the Chinese government owned title to land on Stockton Street, in the heart of Chinatown, and fully intended to rebuild its consulate there.
So in this case, the sanctity of private property and the threat of trade sanctions won out, and San Francisco Chinatown was rebuilt where it had been before.
Let me continue with my point that the capitalists recruit immigrant workers when they need them and try to get rid of them when they dont. Amid the mass unemployment of the Great Depression of the 1930s, the U.S. repatriated nearly half a million Mexicans from the American Southwest. Some of these people incidentally had citizenship papers, but it didnt matter: they were still deported. And this was, after all, on land that the U.S. stole from Mexico in the 1840s. A workers government in the U.S. would return to Mexico certain predominantly Spanish-speaking areas along the border.
During World War II, when the 120,000 Japanese Americans, many of them working in the fields of California, were rounded up and put in the concentration camps, the growers suddenly discovered that they didnt have enough workers. Weve written extensively about the internment, one of the darkest chapters of U.S. history. Out of the resulting labor shortage was born the bracero program, which, like the internment of Japanese Americans, was the product of the liberal Democratic Party administration of Franklin Roosevelt. Up to half of 4.5 million Mexican workers toiled in American agriculture over the 20 years of this program from 1942 to 1964. But they were not immigrants and had no right to become immigrants. They were considered permanent Mexican citizens, and they could be sent back by their employer at any time.
In the 1950s, when the bracero program was still going on, again over a million Mexicans and Mexican Americans were expelled from the U.S. in an operation whose racist name tells the whole story. It was called Operation Wetback! In an interesting book called Outlaws in the Promised Land, the author makes the point that often immigration and deportation go on at the same time, and that the revolving door policy is very useful for the capitalists in intimidating people and keeping them from organizing. In 1960, Edward R. Murrow, the newscaster, did a documentary on the bracero program called Harvest of Shame. It was an excellent exposé of the horrible conditions, but I read that Murrow was later very discomforted when he found out that the Soviet Union was showing the movie to demonstrate the evils of capitalism, which it did!
Former braceros and their families continue to fight both the U.S. and the Mexican governments for wages that were supposedly set aside and sent to Mexico for them to pick up when they got back there. The bracero program was legally abolished, mainly under pressure from the trade unions. But in a sense it still exists. What happens is that the contract worker without rights becomes the so-called illegal alien, also without rights. Let me make an obvious point: If the Pew Hispanic Center knows there are 12 million undocumented immigrants here, then the U.S. authorities certainly know theyre here and allow them to be here. The government wants immigrants to be fearful and afraid to organize, but capitalists need them and the government knows that. Mexican immigrants, now as in the 1930s, remain the reserve army of labor for California agribusiness.
For United Class Struggle!
As revolutionary leader V.I. Lenin wrote in an article titled Capitalism and Workers Immigration in 1913:
There can be no doubt that dire poverty alone compels people to abandon their native land, and that the capitalists exploit the immigrant workers in the most shameful manner. But only reactionaries can shut their eyes to the progressive significance of this modern migration of nations. Emancipation from the yoke of capital is impossible without the further development of capitalism, and without the class struggle that is based on it. And it is into this struggle that capitalism is drawing the masses of the working people of the whole world, breaking down the musty, fusty habits of local life, breaking down national barriers and prejudices, uniting workers from all countries in huge factories and mines in America, Germany, and so forth.
Today the immigrant worker, who often brings with him militant traditions of class war, is vital to reinvigorating the working class here, breaking down its supremely musty, fusty habits of local life and breaking down deeply ingrained national prejudices. Latinos from Mexico and Central America have turned open shop L.A. into a battleground of the class war. We welcome them; the U.S. working class needs all the help it can get! Mexican immigrant workers can also serve as a human bridge linking the struggles of the North American and Latin American proletariat. For class struggle on both sides of the border!
But our task is not easy. Near the end of his life, Friedrich Engels noted in a letter to the German American Marxist Friedrich Sorge that among the obstacles to forming a mass workers party in America was:
immigration, which divides the workers into two groups: the native-born and the foreigners, and the latter in turn into (1) the Irish, (2) the Germans, (3) the many small groups, each of which understands only itself: Czechs, Poles, Italians, Scandinavians, etc. And then the Negroes. To form a single party out of these requires quite unusually powerful incentives. Often there is a sudden violent élan, but the bourgeois need only wait passively, and the dissimilar elements of the working class fall apart again.
As Engels indicated, we have our work cut out for us, and our first step is a clear-eyed look at the problems. Which tendency—that toward working-class unity in the struggle against capitalist exploitation or that toward antagonistic divisions along racial and ethnic lines—will prevail in the historic long run? For class unity to prevail, it is necessary to build a revolutionary vanguard party modeled on the Bolshevik Party that Lenin built in the Russian tsarist empire. Liberals tend to condemn the concept of a vanguard party as elitism. But we are not alien to the working class, seeking to impose our goals from the outside. Rather, we represent in a conscious and consistent way the powerful inner tendency of the working class toward united struggle against capitalist exploitation, ultimately for socialist revolution. For this to succeed, we have to fight the powerful forces seeking to divide the working class along racial and national lines.
In the U.S., opposition to anti-immigrant racism must be intertwined with the struggle against black oppression. We must combat anti-immigrant chauvinism among U.S.-born black and white workers. Its gross to see, as Ive heard reported, a few blacks here in L.A. joining these vigilante Minutemen. At the same time, immigrant workers must understand that anti-black racism must be defeated because it remains the touchstone of social reaction in the U.S.
We have described black people as an oppressed race-color caste, integrated into the U.S. capitalist economy while segregated at the bottom of American society. Black oppression is the cornerstone of American capitalism. The racist atrocity in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina made this fact plain to the whole world. In fact, what was really clear was the impulse to genocide that the American bourgeoisie has toward black people. We stand for revolutionary integrationism, fighting against segregation and for the integration of black people into an egalitarian, socialist America. The slogan Black liberation through socialist revolution sums up our strategic tasks. This means confronting the unfinished business of the Civil War, which ended slavery but most certainly did not fulfill the promise of black liberation. Only workers revolution can fulfill that promise. Karl Marx, around the time of the Civil War, wrote, Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded. This quote tells two important truths: first, that the fundamental division in society is class; second, that racism is a tool of the capitalist class to divide and rule the working class.
The opposite view, that race is the key divide, is expressed by the term people of color, which has become fashionable among left-liberals and radicals. This is not simply a neutral description of ethnic groups that are deemed to be non-white. Behind the term people of color is a political outlook and implicit program. First, it says that no significant section of the white population, including white workers, can be expected to fight the racial oppression of people of color. Secondly, it holds that all people in the U.S. considered to be non-white have, or should have, common interests and a strong sense of solidarity with one another—or, to put it crassly, that a black auto worker or a Mexican agricultural laborer has fundamentally more in common with a Chinese American real estate mogul or an Indian doctor than with a construction worker of Irish or Italian lineage. We start from the opposite perspective: that is, a determined struggle to unite the multiracial proletariat in class struggle against the capitalist system.
The labor bureaucracy has long pushed Buy American protectionism that blames the Japanese worker or the Chinese worker, not the American bosses, of course, for the deteriorating living standards of the American working class. Of course, with China, its more than simply pro-U.S. protectionism; its that the labor bureaucracy shares the anti-Communist aims of U.S. imperialisms drive to turn the Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers state into a colony of the U.S.
But if you want to know where protectionism leads, examine the case of Vincent Chin in the 80s, which kind of radicalized a generation of Asian youth. He was a young Chinese American man who was beaten to death, a few days before his wedding, by a foreman from an auto plant and his stepson who thought Vincent Chin was Japanese American. In their crazed, racist minds they thought he was responsible for the mass layoffs in auto in Detroit.
But they didnt originate this racist garbage. Anti-Japanese hysteria was pushed by the auto bosses, by the Democratic Party and by the top bureaucrats of the United Auto Workers. This was at a time when the union bureaucrats organized parties where they encouraged workers to smash Toyotas with sledgehammers (you can see a picture of this in Workers Vanguard) and where you didnt dare park a foreign car in a union parking lot. This was the labor sellouts answer to layoffs—not plant takeovers or sit-down strikes, but blame the Japanese. The murderers of Vincent Chin never spent a day in jail. Vincent Chins mother eventually moved back to China, disgusted with the U.S. injustice system.
Let me give you another startling example of the kind of chauvinism that must be combatted. Cesar Chavez has become something of a left-liberal icon. But if you go back and look at old Workers Vanguards, you can read some very hard-hitting articles from 1973 and 74 about Chavezs class collaborationism, reliance on the Democratic Party and the Catholic church, and insistence on passive protest and consumer boycotts rather than class struggle—hot-cargoing of struck goods, solidarity strikes, etc. But the most shocking article is one from the 13 September 1974 WV [No. 52] titled Chavez Finks on Illegal Mexican Workers. This article reveals that Chavez, concerned that growers were deliberately using undocumented workers as scabs, was going around, not organizing these workers, but fingering them to federal agents. This information was available not just in the pages of Workers Vanguard, but also in the San Francisco Examiner. And it was commented on, in their typically whiny and somewhat dishonest fashion, by the Communist Party, the Socialist Workers Party and the Maoist October League. This was totally well known at the time and is now totally covered up!
For Proletarian Revolution!
On the note of whiny and somewhat dishonest, let me talk about some of the left groups and their attitudes toward the current demonstrations. The reformist International Socialist Organization (ISO), Workers World Party and ANSWER and Socialist Workers Party (SWP) have all signed up as cheerleaders for what is being dubbed the new civil rights movement. Now, all these outfits editorialize against guest worker programs but refuse to raise the straightforward call for full citizenship rights. The ISOs maximum demand is Amnesty Now, while the SWP calls for permanent residency. Both of these demands would keep immigrants in second-class status. What is amnesty? It means that you will not be prosecuted for your crime of coming here and working like a dog and being exploited to the max. The amnesty of 1986 allowed some undocumented workers to become permanent residents and some of these to become citizens many years later. Workers World calls for full rights and amnesty, which is a deliberately confusing slogan designed to not offend liberals while sounding a little left. We say that anybody who made it here, by whatever means, has the right to full citizenship rights.
Most importantly, the reformists disappear the central role played by the capitalist politicians and the Catholic church in these demos. Heres a quote from Workers World [4 May] speaking of the May 1 demo: By raising the banner of mass struggle and taking a path independent of both Republicans and Democrats, they are setting a tone of resistance, challenge and defiance that is so needed to show the true power of the workers and end this long period of retreat. I wish! But wishing doesnt make it so. There must be political struggle!
Let me take up one other question. At least in the Bay Area, a few anarchist types—not the main leaders of these demos, by any means, but a few anarchists—have been raising the liberal utopian slogan, Open the borders. This implies illusions that there can be the abolition of national states under capitalism. It implies that the state, which in our Marxist view is armed bodies of men—cops, la migra, army, courts, and prisons—whose function is the suppression of the working class in the interests of the capitalist class, can somehow be reformed away or be made to serve our interests. No, it cant; it must be overturned, and a workers state established.
The slogan Open the borders, if applied to small, neocolonial or underdeveloped countries, can be downright reactionary: Should Aztec leader Montezuma have welcomed the Spanish conquistadors with open arms? Or should the Mexican regimes in the early 19th century have allowed unfettered American immigration into what is now the American Southwest and California? But applied to imperialist powers like the U.S., which are the only ones really capable of defending their borders, it is fatuous utopianism. Capitalism cannot provide economic well-being and freedom for the people of the world. We understand that unlimited immigration and the destruction of national frontiers will become a reality only under socialism, as a result of the abolition of material scarcity.
It is through united class struggle that the divisions between white and black workers, and between the native-born and immigrants, can be overcome. A model effort in this regard was the November 1982 labor/black mobilization in Washington, D.C., initiated by the Spartacist League, which stopped the race-terrorist KKK. Many people here have probably heard of that demo, but a lot of people dont know or dont remember that the Klan was marching against immigrants and against some kind of minor amnesty proposal. But because it was the Klan and because we provided some revolutionary leadership, 5,000 people, mostly black, came out and stopped them. Previously that same year in Chicago, when the Nazis were going after gays, we organized a labor/black mobilization that stopped these fascists. Now there is plenty of anti-gay prejudice among white and black workers, but with communist leadership, working people can overcome these prejudices and be mobilized to fight on the grounds that an injury to one is an injury to all—and also on the basis of the understanding that the ultimate target of any kind of fascist movement in the U.S. is always blacks.
Finally I want to talk about the 9 February 2002 demo in which we organized labor to flex its muscle in defense of immigrant brothers and sisters targeted under the U.S. rulers war on terrorism. This was right after 9/11 and there was a lot of hysteria. So it was difficult, but some 300 unionists, immigrants, blacks and youth rallied in downtown Oakland in opposition to the USA Patriot Act, the Maritime Security Act and the anti-immigrant witchhunt. At the core of this demonstration were over 30 dock workers from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10. They joined transit workers, water utility workers, printers, Hispanic day laborers, Asian and Near Eastern immigrants and college and high school students to declare that the U.S. working class will fight to defend all the oppressed against their common capitalist class enemy.
It took a fight to put this demo together, a political fight. For one thing, the ILWU International does not oppose the Maritime Security Act, which is directed at all port workers. The ILWU bureaucracy buys into the war on terror. They want it reformed a little, and mostly they want it applied to the immigrant port truckers whom the bureaucracy points to as the real security risk. So it was a very conscious choice for these black longshoremen to come to the demo, and we had a lot of discussions at the longshore hall about why it was important for black workers to defend immigrants. When people came, the most popular chant was, Asian, Latino, black and white, workers of the world unite! You could see every one of those kinds of workers at the demo, and you could see they really meant what they said. So it was small, but impressive.
It had an effect around the world, too. Our Mexican comrades said that the people they were talking to were just amazed by this demo, which cut against the very common idea in Mexico and other Third World countries that there are no classes or class struggle in the U.S. With its internationalism, it cut against Mexican nationalism—the we Mexicans must stick together rhetoric that the Mexican bourgeoisie uses to bind the exploited to their exploiters. The ICL got letters from countries where we have no sections, from people who had just heard about the protest and were congratulating us on this stance of defense of immigrants against the predatory U.S. government. It was a small demo, but I think that in some ways it showed the way forward and how the multiracial working class of this country can be organized.
In conclusion, our model is the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. It replaced the rule of the capitalists and landlords with that of the working class and raised high the banner of world socialist revolution. Despite the Stalinist degeneration that ultimately opened the door to capitalist counterrevolution in 1991-1992, the Soviet Union demonstrated the power of a planned, collectivized economy in providing employment, education, health care and decent living conditions. We continue to stand for and fight for the liberating principles of the Bolshevik Revolution. And on the subject of this talk, the principles were very clearly stated in the 1918 founding constitution of the Soviet workers state:
Article 20: Acting on the principle of the solidarity of the toilers of all nations, the Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic shall grant all political rights enjoyed by Russian citizens to foreigners resident within the territory of the Russian Republic for purposes of employment and belonging to the working class or to the peasantry not employing hired labour. Local soviets shall be authorized to confer upon such foreigners, without any troublesome formalities, the rights of Russian citizenship.
This straightforward assertion was simply the concrete application of the basic Marxist principle that the workers of the world must unite against their oppressors.