Workers Vanguard No. 974
18 February 2011
Immigrant Rights, Black Rights Go Hand in Hand
14th Amendment: Gain of Civil War Victory Over Slavery
As they run around the country waving their little pocket Constitutions, the Republican right, including Tea Party adherents, have launched an assault on the fundamental right of citizenship. These “strict constructionists,” who claim every word in the Constitution is nearly as sacrosanct as those in the King James Bible, are calling to amend or repeal the Fourteenth Amendment, which bestows citizenship on all persons born in the U.S. The racist yahoos are most immediately threatening immigrant men and women and also their children, with those born in the U.S. reviled by these bigots as “anchor babies.” But make no mistake: The attack on the Fourteenth Amendment, one of the gains of the Civil War that destroyed black chattel slavery, underscores that anti-immigrant chauvinism threatens black people as well.
The in-your-face racism of the Tea Party types allows the Democratic Party—the other party of racist capitalist rule—to more easily posture as the friend of immigrants, even as the Obama administration carries out a coldly efficient deportation campaign. Over the past two years, Obama’s Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported nearly 800,000 immigrants, setting new records. While scolding Arizona Republican governor Jan Brewer for signing into law the state’s apartheid-style anti-immigrant pass law, the Obama administration metes out essentially the same treatment. Its “Secure Communities” program uses the cops to harass anyone who doesn’t look “American” and to sweep up immigrant workers. Maria Ledezma knows as much. Ledezma, who herself was brought to Arizona from Mexico as a toddler, was deported from Phoenix to the Mexican border town of Nogales. Sobbing as she explained her forced separation from her three daughters, all U.S. citizens, she said, “I never imagined being here. I’ll bet right now that my girls are asking, ‘Where’s Mom?’”
From moves in state legislatures to restrict who qualifies for “citizenship,” including by creating two tiers of birth certificates, up to the White House, the attacks on immigrant rights are truly imbued with “bipartisan spirit.” It is no accident that this occurs in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, with immigrants charged with “stealing jobs” and grabbing government handouts. This is but one of the myriad ways the capitalist rulers whip up ethnic and racial hostilities to divide the working class and weaken its ability to struggle. The labor movement must see the struggle against anti-immigrant and anti-black racism as central to its own cause. No deportations! Full citizenship rights for all immigrants!
At this stage, moves to abrogate the Fourteenth Amendment may not go very far. But there has been a very real and concerted attack on fundamental rights of citizenship under the so-called “war on terror.” As we warned, the “anti-terror” witchhunt that first took aim against people from predominantly Muslim countries soon targeted black people, the labor movement and the rights of the populace as a whole.
In 2002, the government seized U.S. citizen Jose Padilla and locked him up for years as an “unlawful enemy combatant” without filing charges or allowing him a trial, in which the government would have to prove his “guilt.” As the Spartacist League and Partisan Defense Committee wrote in an amici curiae brief on Padilla’s behalf (printed in the PDC’s Class-Struggle Defense Notes No. 31, Summer 2003):
“The Executive’s declaration that its ‘war against terrorism’ forfeits constitutional protections for designated individuals echoes the regimes of shahs and colonels and presidents ‘for life’ from the Near East to Africa to Latin America, to justify the mass imprisonment and unmarked graves of political dissidents. Like them, the Executive is proclaiming the right to disappear citizens of its choosing.”
Extending this authority, last year the Obama administration gave legal sanction for the targeted assassination of a U.S. citizen living abroad—Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, accused of being an Al Qaeda operative.
Meanwhile, an estimated 5.3 million Americans are denied the right to vote because of laws that prohibit voting by people with felony convictions, including some 1.4 million black men. Thus, in Florida, over 30 percent of black men cannot vote. We demand: Full voting rights for prisoners and felons!
The attack on the Fourteenth Amendment speaks to the inextricable link between the fight for black freedom in this country and the defense of immigrant rights. This was captured in the negative by Danny Verdin, Republican majority whip for the South Carolina state Senate and a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, in explaining his intention to introduce state citizenship laws. Pointing to the coming April commemoration of Confederate troops firing on Fort Sumter in Charleston at the start of the Civil War, Verdin proclaimed: “South Carolina may have been out front leading 150 years ago at Fort Sumter; but we are happy to work collaboratively on this to cure a malady.”
Passed during the period of Radical Reconstruction following the defeat of the Southern slavocracy in the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment for the first time enunciated the concept of national citizenship, which it defined as applying to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” This overturned the infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision in which the Supreme Court ruled that blacks, slave or free, were not citizens according to the Constitution, declaring that blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”
According to the Fourteenth Amendment, states could not “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” However, this blow to the slave masters’ doctrine of “states’ rights” was almost immediately followed by a Supreme Court ruling that the protections contained in the amendment were not binding on the individual states, leaving in place a patchwork of widely varying local laws. At the same time, the victory of the North had consolidated the American nation-state, creating for the first time a strong central government and military apparatus. With the rapid development of a national capitalist economy, the U.S. soon emerged as an imperialist power, waging wars and military occupations abroad.
With the defeat of Radical Reconstruction, marked by the removal of remaining Union Army troops from the South under the Compromise of 1877, a new system of exploitation enforced by racist repression was established. Legally freed from slavery, blacks were subject to the tyranny of the defeated slaveowners and their Ku Klux Klan henchmen. The former slaves became tenants and sharecroppers toiling on land owned by the white propertied class, consisting of elements of the old slavocracy and a new Southern bourgeoisie with strong ties to Northern capital. In the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court codified “separate but equal” segregation, which remained the law of the land for the next seven decades. Black people were consolidated anew as an oppressed race-color caste at the bottom of American capitalist society, where in the mass they remain to this day.
With the mass migration of blacks into Northern industrial centers, they became a crucial component of the proletariat, although as the “last hired, first fired.” While the mass struggles of the civil rights movement broke the back of the Jim Crow system, what legal equality was gained did not and could not address the material roots of black oppression in the American capitalist system: segregation in ghetto hellholes; desperate poverty; mass unemployment, particularly for black youth.
As against both liberal integrationists and black nationalists, our struggle for black liberation is based on the program of revolutionary integrationism. While opposing every manifestation of racial oppression, fighting in particular to mobilize the social power of the multiracial labor movement, we underline that full equality for the black masses requires that the working class rip the economy out of the hands of the capitalist rulers and reorganize it on a socialist basis. This will lay the groundwork for the integration of black people into an egalitarian socialist society based on a collectivized economy, with jobs and quality housing, health care and education for all.
As the Labor Black Leagues, initiated by and fraternally allied to the Spartacist League, state in their program: “We fight to win the entire working class, including white workers as well as the growing number of Latino and other immigrants, to the fight for black liberation, strategic to the American revolution. Black and working-class militants must stand for full citizenship rights for all immigrants and in their defense against racist and chauvinist anti-immigrant attacks. An injury to one is an injury to all!” The Spartacist League is fighting to build a multiracial workers party that will champion the cause of all the exploited and oppressed in the fight for a socialist America. Only then can the wealth produced by labor be deployed for the benefit of society as a whole, laying the basis for eradicating all inequalities based on class, race and national origin.