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Workers Vanguard No. 885

2 February 2007

Immigrant Rights and the Fight for Black Liberation

Part One

(Black History and the Class Struggle)

JANUARY 27—Three days ago, Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents descended upon the Smithfield pork processing plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, and arrested 21 workers who are now being deported. The Smithfield bosses have worked hand in hand with ICE, targeting workers on the pretext that their Social Security numbers cannot be verified.

After more than a decade of struggle by the United Food and Commercial Workers union to organize Smithfield, the company recently said it will allow a new union representation election. However, just prior to the ICE raid, the company said that beginning in February it will fire up to 600 workers, primarily those who walked out to protest the firing of 75 immigrants last year (see “Smithfield Walkout Saves Immigrants’ Jobs,” WV No. 881, 24 November 2006). Moreover, Smithfield has effectively blocked elections by appealing a National Labor Relations Board ruling that held that the company’s private cops had brutalized workers during an earlier walkout.

The arrests at Smithfield are the latest installment of a vindictive campaign launched by the government following immigrant rights protests last spring. More than 750 immigrants in Southern California were rounded up this month as part of “Operation Return to Sender,” a nationwide drive in which more than 13,000 people have been arrested since June, ostensibly for evading deportation orders or for having previously been deported for crimes committed in the U.S.

“Homeland Security” repression is also bearing down on unionized black workers. Late last year in Chicago, some 70 mostly black rail workers lost their jobs, many for supposedly violating new government guidelines barring ex-felons from holding such positions. As we wrote in “Protest ‘War on Terror’ Firing of Rail Workers!” (WV No. 884, 19 January): “The fight for the rights of workers, immigrants and black people will either go forward together—independent from and opposed to the capitalist class and its government—or fall back separately.”

The following is adapted from a forum given in Los Angeles on 16 September 2006 by Spartacist League Central Committee member Don Alexander.

* * *

Not a day passes without many horrible examples of the social barbarism inherent in this decaying, racist capitalist system. In the world arena, so-called civilized U.S. imperialism has been and is the outstanding example of imperialist rapacity, smugness, hypocrisy, torture and mass murder. In the U.S., the bipartisan “war against terror” is a war against immigrants, black people, the left and labor. It is no accident that following the nationwide immigrant rights protests last May, the capitalist government dispatched the National Guard to the Mexican border and also sent Guardsmen back to New Orleans. Not a mere coincidence. The racist capitalist ruling class has never missed a chance to play whites off against blacks, blacks and whites against immigrants, men against women, old against young, and vice versa.

The struggles against anti-immigrant chauvinism and for black freedom are intertwined. The key to unlocking the power of labor in the United States is the fight for black liberation, which can be a motor force for proletarian revolution. We say that the color bar in America, the special oppression of black people as an oppressed race-color caste, serves to obscure the division of society into irreconcilable classes and to keep the working class divided.

Today immigrants are 12 percent of the population, with about half coming from Mexico and Central America and the rest from Asia and Europe. In the 1950s, only 2.5 million immigrants arrived in the United States, with 60 percent coming from Europe or Canada, 25 percent from Latin America or the Caribbean and only 6 percent from Asia. By the 1980s, however, immigration to the U.S. had nearly tripled to 7.3 million people, only 12 percent of whom came from Europe or Canada, with 47 percent originating from Latin America and another 37 percent from Asia. During the 1990s, an additional ten million immigrants entered the country, exceeding the prior pace set in the previous decade by 37.7 percent. The vast majority came from Latin America and Asia.

Twenty years ago, the right-wing Republican Reagan administration introduced the Immigration Reform and Control Act. They came up with a “guest worker” program primarily serving the interests of huge agribusiness. But the Act legalized 2.3 million Mexican workers, who had to document at least five years of residence in the U.S. This meant that Hispanics—who had historically been concentrated in Texas, California and also Florida, with its large number of Cubans, Nicaraguans and others—could move elsewhere. During the 1990s, the Hispanic population increased by some 60 percent, rising from 22.4 million in 1990 to 35.3 million in 2000. By 2003, the new census counts confirmed that the Hispanic population surpassed black Americans as the nation’s largest minority.

Our Marxist program speaks directly to immigrants’ burning needs. We demand full citizenship rights for all immigrants, whether legal or “illegal”—for all who have made it here. We also say that if there were a real amnesty for undocumented workers, we would support that, while recognizing that such gains are partial. We stand for full equality of all languages in all spheres of public life and defend bilingual education against “English only” bigots. We stand unalterably opposed to the bourgeoisie’s anti-immigrant laws and regulations. Against the capitalists’ attempts to use undocumented, low-wage immigrant workers as a club against the trade unions, we seek to mobilize the labor movement to fight deportations and anti-immigrant raids through class-struggle means, and to organize such workers into unions with full rights and protections.

We fight to build a party—a multiracial revolutionary workers party—that champions the interests and the rights of all the oppressed and exploited, whether fighting for full citizenship rights for all immigrants, for defense of the besieged Latino poor, for defense of Asians, for defense of abortion rights for women, for women’s liberation through socialist revolution, for democratic rights for homosexuals, for black freedom. Immigrant workers, especially from Mexico and Central America, bring militant traditions of class struggle to the U.S. And they are not only a catalyst for class and social struggle, but also a human bridge linking the struggles of working people on both sides of the border. And this is why it’s so important to mobilize immigrant workers in struggle and to defend them.

It is not just a question of immigrant workers’ continued militancy and determination, but that they share common class interests with the proletariat as a whole. There must be a class-struggle mobilization of the labor movement to fight for jobs for all through a shorter workweek with no cut in pay, a unified struggle for our burning, fundamental needs.

Worldwide, the imperialists have perfected the art of playing upon national, ethnic, religious and sexual divisions to perpetuate their barbaric rule. At their disposal are various weapons of mass deception: their press, their political parties, their preachers and priests. Above all, they have their armed bodies of men who safeguard their “right” to exploit and live off the labor of others. As Trotskyists, we fight for international proletarian revolution.

We raise an implacable struggle against the U.S. capitalist rulers, both Democrats and Republicans, and demand the unconditional withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, Afghanistan, South Korea and elsewhere. We stand for the defeat of imperialism through international proletarian revolution. While the imperialist troops butcher Iraqis, the racist cops gun down blacks and Latinos here in racist capitalist America.

Marxism and Immigration

Our revolutionary internationalist proletarian program flows from the reality of the world capitalist economy. As Marxists, we understand that imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, is not a preferred policy of capitalism but the inevitable product of the constant search for sources of cheap labor and raw materials. This has twice resulted in bloody interimperialist wars for the division and redivision of the world.

Whether it’s immigration or trade policy, we don’t seek to advise the bourgeoisie. There is no answer to the brutal immiseration produced by this boom-and-bust capitalist system without a proletarian socialist revolution that takes power out of the hands of the capitalist exploiters. Basing ourselves upon the lessons of history—the Paris Commune of 1871, and in particular the victorious October 1917 Russian Revolution—we understand that workers cannot achieve emancipation through a futile quest to reform the capitalist profit system. The fight must be for a socialist revolution that smashes the bloody capitalist state apparatus and constructs a workers state. This requires a consistently revolutionary program and the leadership of a Leninist vanguard party, a tribune of the people.

The system of capitalism long ago outlived any progressive historical role. Today, capitalism retards the development of the productive forces of society, which long ago outgrew the narrow shell of the bourgeois nation-state. We recognize that the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state and the East European deformed workers states, an unprecedented defeat of the international proletariat, has resulted in a retrogression of political consciousness, albeit unevenly. This has meant that the proletariat today does not view its struggles through the prism of the fight for socialism. Despite the bourgeois lie of the “death of communism,” there exists a rich body of theoretical and programmatic conceptions to draw upon in the struggle for the complete emancipation of the working class from capitalist exploitation.

The exploiters know this. And that is why they put out their anti-communist garbage. Outlived social classes fight back in defense of their obsolete systems, just like the pro-slavery ideologists in the pre-Civil War South did—those like George Fitzhugh, who wrote biting denunciations of the evils of the industrial capitalist wage-slavery system in the North in order to counter the slaveholders’ Northern bourgeois opponents. It was the Southern slavocracy’s desire to extend slavery that partly motivated the 1846 invasion of Mexico, which resulted in the United States government’s stealing half of Mexico’s territory. A workers government in the U.S. would return to Mexico certain predominantly Spanish-speaking areas along the border. It is worthy of note that in 1855 Texas slaveholders bitterly complained of the estimated loss of more than 4,000 black slaves, valued at more than $3.2 million, who escaped to northern Mexico. According to one account, by the mid 1850s several Texas counties had passed laws prohibiting Mexicans from communicating with slaves.

Capitalism, paraphrasing Karl Marx, came into the world dripping with the blood of the oppressed. In Volume One of Capital, Marx laid out how the development of capitalism entailed horrific consequences especially for women and children. Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin quoted from this volume in The Teachings of Karl Marx (1915):

“‘The expropriation and eviction of a part of the agricultural population not only set free for industrial capital, the laborers, their means of subsistence, and material for labor; it also created the home market.’

“The impoverishment and ruin of the agricultural population led, in their turn, to the formation of a reserve army of labor for capital. In every capitalist country ‘a part of the agricultural population is therefore constantly on the point of passing over into an urban or manufacturing proletariat…. This source of relative surplus population is thus constantly flowing…. The agricultural labor is therefore reduced to the minimum of wages, and always stands with one foot in the swamp of pauperism’.”

This process also results in the amalgamation of the proletariat of different nations and brings to the fore their common interests as an international class. “The Thesis on the World Role of American Imperialism” (1938), one of the founding documents of Trotsky’s Fourth International, exposed the deceitful “good neighbor” policy of U.S. imperialism toward Latin America. (The name has changed over the years. I know under Kennedy they used to refer to it as the “Alliance for Progress.”) The Thesis stated:

“The ‘good neighbor’ policy is nothing but the attempt to unify the Western Hemisphere under the hegemony of Washington, as a solid bloc welded by the latter in its drive to close the door of the two American continents to all the foreign imperialist powers except itself. This policy is materially supplemented by the favorable trade agreements which the United States seeks to conclude with Latin American countries in the hope of systematically edging its rivals out of the market…. The struggle against American imperialism is therefore at the same time a struggle against the coming imperialist war and for the liberation of oppressed colonial and semicolonial peoples. Hence, it is inseparable from the class struggle of the American proletariat against the ruling bourgeoisie, and cannot be conducted apart from it.”

This is still true. Currently there are some bourgeois-nationalist thorns in the side of U.S. imperialism, such as Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia, who spout anti-U.S. rhetoric as a way to conceal their own bourgeois rule.

We fight for the unity and integrity of the international working class against chauvinism and racism. The same racist U.S. capitalist butchers who brutally exploit the peoples of Latin America and elsewhere also let the poor and black people of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast drown, suffer and rot during and after Hurricane Katrina. They use their cops to torture black people in Chicago, and last January they sent white coal miners to their deaths in West Virginia.

The “Free Trade” Rape of Mexico

Mexico today is in turmoil. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) forced millions of Mexican peasants out of the countryside. NAFTA came into effect on January 1, 1994, and in its first two years more than 2.3 million Mexicans lost their jobs. The effect of NAFTA is an important component of increased immigration to the U.S. Also, capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union and East Europe has accelerated immigration internationally, particularly to West Europe. NAFTA wreaked havoc for Mexican workers and peasants with the elimination of state subsidies for many goods and services. Mexican workers had their wages slashed, they were thrown out of work by the thousands, and many were forced into informal employment. The costs of basic necessities such as gas and electricity skyrocketed, and the masses today face increased starvation or are forced to emigrate.

This “free trade agreement” represented imperialist looting of Mexico. We opposed it from the very beginning from an internationalist, revolutionary standpoint. In 1991, the Grupo Espartaquista de México, the Trotskyist League of Canada and the Spartacist League/U.S., sections of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), issued a joint statement declaring, “There is a burning need for an internationalist proletarian opposition which stands with the working class and impoverished peasantry of Mexico against the imperialist assault” (“Stop U.S. ‘Free Trade’ Rape of Mexico,” WV No. 530, 6 July 1991). In contrast, the labor tops of the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters opposed NAFTA on the basis of poisonous chauvinism and protectionism.

Apparently, the U.S. imperialists are building what they call a NAFTA superhighway—the construction of major transportation corridors from Mexico’s Pacific coast port of Lázaro Cárdenas to Kansas City, and also to Canada. This is the inexorable logic of capitalist production. Capital migrates to areas of higher profitability. This demands of Marxists the organization of workers, from the Yukon to the Yucatán, for common internationalist class struggle and for socialist revolution throughout the Americas.

The labor lieutenants of the capitalist class—the pro-capitalist trade-union bureaucracy—holler about foreign workers “taking American jobs,” with China being at the top of their list. It’s in the interests of the U.S. proletariat to unite with the workers of the world to overthrow the hideous system of capitalism. The imperialists especially seek to restore capitalist rule in China, a deformed workers state, and completely turn that country into a giant sweatshop of superexploited labor and a haven for super-profits.

Immigration and Women’s Oppression

Women workers in Mexico are brutally exploited, especially in the so-called free-trade maquiladora factory zones in the North. Women there as young as 16 suffer exposure to poisonous chemicals and endure wretched working conditions that maim and destroy them. They endure not only constant sexist abuse but outright murder by the police and their henchmen. Ideologically, the reactionary, anti-woman Catholic church and the bourgeois parties—the National Action Party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party and the Party of the Democratic Revolution—bolster their subjugation. The institution of the family is the main source of the oppression of women.

Many women from desperately poor Third World countries, including Mexico and the Philippines, endure racist, anti-woman abuse in the U.S. Some women opt for prostitution as a means to survive. Prostitution should be decriminalized and the bourgeois state should stay out of our bedrooms and our lives. Whether in Mexico, the Philippines or even the “land of the free,” the capitalist U.S.A., the fight for free abortion on demand, free quality medical and child care and equal pay for equal work requires winning the most conscious elements of the working class to carry out the proletariat’s historic task as the fighter for the interests of the oppressed. The working class must take up the fight for women’s liberation, which requires the overthrow of the capitalist order.

As Lenin explained in his classic work What Is To Be Done? (1902), revolutionary working-class consciousness is not a by-product of spontaneous struggle but must be brought into the proletariat from the outside, through the intervention of a vanguard party. Proletarian internationalism is not abstract. It is a necessity dictated by the increased economic integration of the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

For Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

In racist capitalist America, black rights and immigrant rights either go forward together or slide back separately. Black oppression is the cornerstone of U.S. capitalism, rooted in the very structure of the capitalist system and a key weapon of the ruling class historically to maintain its class domination.

The Labor Black Leagues, initiated by the Spartacist League and fraternally allied to it, promote and fight for common class struggle. On the masthead of the LBLs’ newsletters, we have Karl Marx’s statement that “labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.” Our program for black liberation is the program of revolutionary integrationism, the fight for black liberation through socialist revolution. This program is in sharp counterposition to the program of liberal integrationism, which is based upon the lie that you can have equality between the oppressed and the oppressors, that you can have genuine black freedom under capitalism. Equality, as Friedrich Engels put it in his magnificent book Anti-Dühring (1878), can only be achieved by abolishing the capitalist mode of production.

Despite disproportionately bearing the brunt of racist cutbacks and job losses, black workers are a strategic component of the unionized proletariat and potentially can play a vanguard role in the struggle for the rule of the working class. However, black workers’ weight in the proletariat has undergone considerable erosion. The renewal of this layer of the proletariat has been checked by new forms of racial and social controls devised by the racist rulers. Not a day goes by in which their racist “war on drugs” doesn’t add to the total of broken black lives—and also Latino youths’ lives. American capitalism is a prison nation, a gigantic jailhouse for the poor and the oppressed. In New York City, nearly half the black men are unemployed.

There are various schools of liberal idealism that posit race and not class as the fundamental dividing line in society. From their standpoint, racism is primarily a product of bad ideas. This notion divorces racism from its material, economic roots in capitalist society. In his latest book, Working Toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White, the scholar David Roediger reflects the bankruptcy of liberalism. How is it possible to write such a book and not mention slavery? It’s not even in the book’s index. He can’t explain how black people became a race-color caste forcibly segregated at the bottom of this society, victims of the institutionalized racial oppression that is fostered by the bourgeoisie. Black oppression is bound up with black chattel slavery and is a foundation of American capitalism. Slavery’s legacy persists: the racist segregation, the unparalleled levels of imprisonment, the racist death penalty.

Slavery was the defining reality at the founding of the United States, from the slave trade’s very earliest phase and its tenuous hold in the 16th century to its full flowering in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. For the majority of the history of this country, black chattel slavery made a mockery of the democratic ideology of the founding fathers. Most of the early presidents of this country were slaveholders, along with the chief justices of the Supreme Court. The ideology of black inferiority and white superiority was a rationalization for the brutal extraction of uncompensated slave labor in the production of commodities for an international market.

Today, on one hand we get the neocons and others proclaiming an “end to racism,” embodied in their obscenely misnamed “civil rights” initiatives that have abolished the remnants of affirmative action at many universities. The flip side of this is “people of color” liberal politics, which denies the distinct and different histories of different ethnic groups in this country and, especially, ignores the special oppression of black people. Its purveyors reject the fact that anti-black racism has been central to the maintenance of the bourgeois order in this country. Such an omission—color blindness if you will—is a backhanded concession to reactionary ideologues such as David Horowitz who openly and stridently deny the reality of black oppression.

Behind “people of color” politics is a political program. Race is viewed as the primary dividing line in capitalist society, as opposed to the class division between the capitalists and the workers. There is an implicit presumption that all non-white people have common interests against all whites. White workers and bosses are supposedly united in “white skin privilege.” Large sections of the white working class do buy into the racism of this society, which is fomented by the exploiters. However, what material stake do white workers have in the perpetuation of this incredibly unequal society, whose white ruling class enjoys unparalleled riches coming at the workers’ expense? None whatsoever.

That is not to say that the racist rulers don’t constantly fill their heads with the lie of white superiority and black inferiority, and this has its effects. But it would be news to many of these workers—who along with black people, Latinos and Asian workers, have lost jobs and hard-earned benefits—that they, as opposed to the Wall Street money sharks, are the beneficiaries of the oppression of minorities. The presumption is that blacks and Latinos have more in common with Chinese or Indian businessmen than with Irish- or Italian-derived white workers. The presumption is that Condoleezza Rice and Alberto Gonzales are “our people.”

“People of color” politics serves to perpetuate the divisions in the working class and can only help drive white workers into the arms of this country’s white ruling class. Unlike the liberals and the reformists, we fight to win the multiracial working class to a program and perspective of class struggle against a common enemy, the capitalist exploiters. We fight to win the workers, no matter what their color or sex, to the struggle for socialist revolution to abolish capitalism.



Workers Vanguard No. 885

WV 885

2 February 2007


For Unconditional Military Defense of China!

Imperialists Stung by Chinese Weapons Test


Immigrant Rights and the Fight for Black Liberation

Part One

(Black History and the Class Struggle)


Protest Government Roundup of Former Black Panthers!


On Military vs. Political Support



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