Workers Vanguard No. 886

16 February 2007


Immigrant Rights and the Fight for Black Liberation

Part Two

(Black History and the Class Struggle)

The following is adapted from a forum given in Los Angeles on 16 September 2006 by Spartacist League Central Committee member Don Alexander. Part One of this piece, which we conclude below, appeared in WV No. 885 (2 February).

In recent demonstrations for immigrant rights, we heard the slogan “Today we march, tomorrow we vote.” The large, nationwide pro-immigrant rights protests last spring were an expression of a lot of determination of immigrant workers—Mexicans, Central Americans, Asians—to fight for their rights against the bourgeoisie’s attempts to criminalize them. These protests also represented, on the part of their organizers, a conscious attempt to steer immigrants into Democratic Party electoral politics. The protests were politically dominated by the Democratic Party and the reactionary Catholic church. The so-called “path to citizenship” “guest worker” program, which California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently picked up on, is pushed by Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy and Arizona Republican Senator John McCain. It represents a form of indentured servitude, beefed-up border patrol repression and new, fortified border walls.

A key issue in this unfolding battle is the fight for working-class political independence from the capitalist Democratic and Republican parties. Despite occasional differences, these parties contest every four years to run the government, which is an executive committee for running the affairs of the bourgeoisie. The pro-capitalist AFL-CIO labor bureaucracy opposes the expansion of the guest worker program, while refusing to mobilize labor’s power on behalf of the oppressed. The leadership of the so-called “Change to Win”—more like Born to Lose—coalition, which split from the AFL-CIO in 2005, supports Kennedy and McCain’s plan and also calls for more border “security” measures.

The misleaders of both major labor federations are dead set against organizing the unorganized through class-struggle means because they are staunch defenders of capitalism and the bourgeoisie’s so-called national interests. They tie the workers and the oppressed to the “friends of labor” capitalist Democratic Party. They hate and fear united class struggle against the capitalist exploiters. That’s why we fight to forge a class-struggle leadership of labor through a struggle to oust the treacherous labor bureaucracy.

The potential exists for common class struggle. We saw this during the multiracial protests back in 1992 against the acquittal of the cops who savagely beat black motorist Rodney King. The Spartacist League fought for militant labor action in 1992 in defense of the besieged ghettos and barrios during the L.A. revolt. With the presence of immigrants, largely from Central America and Mexico, in these protests, this could have set the stage for genuine, united class struggle. The power existed within the labor movement nearby in the ports, in Long Beach, if the workers had been organized and mobilized. In the absence of such a struggle, the nationalists, both black and Latino, fought over the crumbs of who was going to “rebuild L.A.”—i.e., who was going to line their own pockets.

More recently, anti-racist white youth, blacks, Latinos and others stood together on the picket lines during the hard-fought UFCW supermarket workers strike of 2003-2004. That strike was knifed and defeated by the labor tops, who prevented it from being extended nationally.

In New York City, black, white and immigrant workers united on the picket lines during the all too brief, three-day transit strike in December 2005. It was a powerful strike. It represented a fight against the anti-strike Taylor Law. It showed in action the tremendous social power of labor to cripple the financial center of U.S. capitalism. However, the transit workers union bureaucracy led by Roger Toussaint called the strike off after three days. The bureaucracy’s program of class collaboration means an alliance with the very Democratic Party whose state attorney general, Eliot Spitzer, brought down the injunction against the strike. Now Spitzer is governor of New York. There was tremendous sympathy for the strike on the part of the black and Latino poor and New York City workers who saw this union as standing up for their future.

To build a revolutionary party we have to politically defeat the opportunist currents within the labor movement, the opponents of the revolutionary workers movement. There is no such thing as the “family of the left.” While the fake-left reformists criticize aspects of the Democrats’ proposed immigration legislation, they oppose the perspective of a class-struggle fight for immigrant rights and for black freedom. They oppose the struggle for proletarian revolution.

The International Socialist Organization (ISO) stated during last year’s immigrant rights protests that they were “sending chills down the spine of Corporate America” (Socialist Worker online, 7 April 2006) and that “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 online, 31 March 2006). In other words, make the Democrats fight, and capitalists should cease to be capitalists. The ISO ridiculously whines that the ultra-legalistic and respectable NAACP merely supports a path to citizenship for college-age students and has firmly planted itself on the right wing of the movement. From its inception, the NAACP has lobbied to get the viciously racist rulers to ameliorate conditions for black people in the smallest kind of way, to allow the tiny black middle class more access to perks and positions. Then you have Workers World Party, which claimed that the immigrant rights protests represented “taking a path independent of both Republicans and Democrats” (Workers World online, 27 April 2006).

Chiming in along similar lines is a tiny organization, mainly based in New York, called the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP), which claims to be Trotskyist. The LRP was founded on capitulation to anti-Sovietism and racist reaction, to anti-busing bigotry in Boston. They also chase behind the liberals, and in the words of Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin, bow to spontaneity. In regard to the protests, they said that this “partial victory has already begun to affect the consciousness of oppressed immigrant workers. They are learning a crucial lesson: their own power” (Proletarian Revolution, Spring 2006). What partial victory? The beefing up of the borders with National Guardsmen? Increased deportations and increased deaths in the deserts in Arizona? What planet do they live on?

Now I have already pointed out a few things about the historical role of anti-black racism in the U.S., that this has largely prevented the development of socialist consciousness within the proletariat. And I recall an old saying when I was growing up: “If you’re white, you’re right; if you’re brown, stick around; if you’re black, get back.” It has some truth to it, but not the whole truth. Because you don’t have to be black to be kicked around, beaten down and locked away. Black people don’t have a monopoly on suffering in this society.

Black Democrats and Immigrant Rights

In the U.S., there are a number of petty-bourgeois black hustlers, capitalist wannabes, who were the main beneficiaries of the civil rights movement and who demonstrate complete contempt for the oppressed black masses. They got PhDs in blaming the oppressed for their oppression. They include black Democrats like Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama, black nationalist demagogue Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, and for a while Bill Cosby was not to be outdone.

A number of the political con artists who represented the legalistic-pacifist wing of the civil rights movement are still around, cynically talking about a so-called new civil rights movement—which to them means a new movement to chain labor, blacks, Latinos and immigrants to the Democrats. Some of them play the anti-immigrant card, like Andrew Young, the black former UN ambassador under Democratic president Jimmy Carter, who recently talked about how various immigrants rip off black people.

Although we defend such gains as the right to vote, we point out that the failure of the liberal-led civil rights movement to qualitatively change the conditions of the black masses shows that no number of laws can change the conditions of the black ghetto masses. Because the slightest fight for jobs, decent integrated education, an end to racist police brutality means a fight to abolish capitalism, the root cause of black oppression. We fight for black liberation through socialist revolution—the assimilation of black people in an egalitarian socialist order in which the monstrous edifice of color-caste oppression has been swept away.

Black Democrats are divided on the question of immigrant rights. Al Sharpton and Jackson posture as defenders of immigrants, lining up some of the immigrants’ votes for the Democrats. We know and have pointed out (see “Labor and the Fight for Immigrant Rights,” WV No. 871, 26 May 2006) that under the liberal Democratic administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mexican workers were used, abused and sent back to Mexico during the Great Depression of the 1930s. (This is not to mention the “Operation Wetback” deportations under a later administration in the 1950s.) This was the same Roosevelt who opposed anti-lynching legislation because of his alliance with Southern racist Dixiecrats. This was historically the best the liberals have had to offer.

As a quintessential petty-bourgeois hustler, Sharpton wore a wire for the Feds in the 1980s. He has supported one or another sordid capitalist politician, like Republican Al D’Amato, as well as Roy Innis of CORE, who in the mid 1970s supported the UNITA organization, which was backed by apartheid South Africa, in Angola against the petty-bourgeois nationalists of the MPLA, which was backed by the Soviet Union and Cuba. Sharpton led boycotts in Harlem against Arab shopkeepers in 1986. He has served the racist exploiters well in keeping the masses in check—squelching struggle against the racist acquittal of the murderous cops who pumped 41 bullets at unarmed black African immigrant Amadou Diallo, and fronting for the Ku Klux Klan by going to court on their behalf in opposition to the Partisan Defense Committee-initiated labor/black mobilization that stopped the Klan from marching in New York City in October 1999.

L.A.-based, pro-Democratic Party liberal Earl Ofari Hutchinson issued one of his communiqués warning Latino capitalist politicians to not forget black interests as they rally for their rights. And he said, “Though Latinos have displaced blacks as the nation’s biggest minority group, the popular notion lingers that they are years away from packing the political wallop of black voters and politicians” (Pasadena Weekly, 18 May 2006). And further he wrote in an online article (2 May 2006), “Latinos who want to change the mindset of blacks on illegal immigrants’ rights must make a visible and concerted effort to reach out to blacks and not just on immigrant rights issues but on issues that are important to blacks as well.”

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a former so-called radical who long ago made his peace with this rotten racist capitalist system. Today he pushes illusions in the pro-capitalist Martin Luther King wing of the civil rights movement and he praises the arch-Uncle Tom Booker T. Washington, who from the late 1880s to the 20th century pushed segregation and “black capitalism.” Washington’s gospel of self-help is fervently embraced today by petty-bourgeois black misleaders who ingratiate themselves with the white ruling class. This underscores the sharp, conflicting class interests within the black population.

Again we hear, from Ofari, that the liberal pacifist King was becoming a socialist toward the end of his life. This is not new. The reformists sing the same psalms. When you hear that, it’s time to reach for your wallet and watch your back. This is the same King who supported the suppression of the black masses during the Watts rebellion in 1965. This deliberate deception by these hypocritical, self-serving Democratic Party liberals is aimed at fooling the oppressed masses into thinking that the liberals represent a realistic alternative to a class-struggle program for black liberation, a program which is inseparable from a struggle to get rid of the capitalist system.

For Working-Class Unity!

The pervasive hopelessness and despair in America’s ghettos today have a basis. They grow out of several decades of defeats for working people and black people as a result of the betrayals of the pro-capitalist labor leadership and the savage attacks administered by black Democratic Party mayors as front men for racist capitalist rule. One can see the despair in the pervasive use of the “N” word.

Such defeats have generated among some blacks the growth of separatist sentiment, which is incapable, like the program of black separatism historically, of generating a program of struggle. Separatism acquiesces to the racist capitalist status quo, accepts “separate but equal” segregation. Najee Ali in L.A. is emblematic of the black nationalist program that embraces capitalism. While posing as a champion of the poor and oppressed, he rails against immigrants for “taking jobs from blacks.” He defends sharia, Islamic law, in Afghanistan and the veil. He embraces anti-woman, anti-immigrant, anti-labor and anti-communist ideology, and he says that he is for the protection of women from the supposed evils of rap music. This is poison to integrated class struggle against the capitalist exploiters, who seek to enslave us all.

His reactionary politics is cut out of the same filthy cloth of the CIA-backed fundamentalist mujahedin who in Afghanistan in the late 1970s and ’80s skinned schoolteachers who taught women how to read and write. Teaching women how to read and write was a crime for U.S. imperialism and their mujahedin Islamic cutthroat allies, just like during slavery it was a crime to teach black people how to read and write. In opposition to “born again” Cold Warrior Democratic president Jimmy Carter, we said: “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan! Extend the social gains of the October Revolution to the Afghan peoples!” We warned and fought against any pullout of Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Indeed, the Soviet withdrawal in 1988-89 was a criminal betrayal that paved the way for the destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state itself.

We don’t romanticize the oppressed. We don’t shut our eyes to the poisonous divisions of capitalist society. Many immigrants do buy into the anti-black racism of the capitalist exploiters. For many immigrants, this has historically been one of the tickets for admission and possible acceptance in this capitalist society. The dominant ideas are the ideas of the ruling class. And we combat the ideological influence of the bourgeoisie upon the proletariat, be it through a struggle against racism, against the oppression of women or against anti-gay bigotry. Racial divisions among workers can be overcome through militant class struggle.

The reality and centrality of black oppression have come to bite many foreign-born immigrants over the years. This includes black immigrants, like the Jamaica-born poet Claude McKay, who in the 1920s captured his recognition of anti-black racism in this country, which he thought he was exempt from, in a powerful series of essays. One of these was titled, “He Who Gets Slapped.” It was him, when he tried to get into a theater. Even the relatively privileged Cuban immigrants, who are welcomed into the U.S. by the anti-Communist American rulers, soon find this out. While white Cuban gusanos—counterrevolutionary worms—run Miami, the black Cubans who get there are relegated to low-paid jobs. They’re segregated into the ghettos like Liberty City and Overtown and subjected to racist cop terror.

For a Workers Party to Fight for Socialist Revolution!

It will take a fighting leadership of labor, committed to uncompromising class struggle, to transform the unions into instruments of revolutionary struggle against the bosses. The absence of a working-class-led fight against black oppression has crippled the labor movement in the United States, especially in the open shop South. With the significant growth of the immigrant workforce in the South, especially Mexican workers, the possibility of common struggle is sharply posed.

In Tar Heel, North Carolina, there exists the Smithfield packing plant, the biggest employer in the region and the largest pork production plant in the world. The few whites there are either mechanics or supervisors, while black and Latino workers have the dirtiest jobs. In 1997, after a failed union recognition struggle, management fired the pro-union black workers and replaced them with Latino immigrants. We know that this can blow up in the bosses’ faces, like when unionized black janitors were replaced in L.A. by immigrant workers who then went on to organize strikes in the city. The morning of the union vote in Smithfield in 1997, the deputy sheriffs showed up in riot gear, and on the union trailer that had been set up were the words “n----r lover.” That was the management response.

We’ve pointed out that the fight to organize the South means a direct fight for black equality and against the anti-union company thugs who are backed up by the union-hating, racist Klan terrorists. Organizing the unorganized in the South today has necessarily got to be on an internationalist basis, to undercut the capitalists’ attempt to pit sections of the proletariat against each other. Opposed to the reformists, who proceed from a nationally limited framework, we put forward a revolutionary internationalist program that flows from the nature of the world capitalist economy. As I’ve said, we do not advise the capitalist rulers on immigration. We fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants! No deportations!

The racist atrocity in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina graphically shows the continued racial oppression of black people. It’s out in the open for the world to see. It shows the anarchy and bankruptcy of American capitalism, of capitalism period, and the necessity of struggling for a planned economy under workers rule. The working people of the world saw how this government let people suffer and die. The fight to rebuild New Orleans, the fight for jobs for the unemployed and displaced at union wages, for free, quality medical care, the fight to defend public education against the flourishing of charter schools—all these sharply pose the question of fighting for a new leadership in the labor movement.

There is no substitute for building a Leninist vanguard party, a tribune of the people like the Bolshevik Party forged in tsarist Russia that led the working class and the oppressed to the seizure of state power in 1917. They established Soviet rule: democratically elected workers councils that administer the dictatorship of the proletariat.

In the U.S., it took a civil war to end slavery, and it will take international socialist revolution to end capitalist wage slavery here and throughout the world. I want to conclude with a statement issued on August 18, 1945 by the then-revolutionary Socialist Workers Party in its newspaper, the Militant, just a few days after the U.S. atomic-bombing of Japan:

“Let the cataclysmic horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki serve as a clarion call to the working class! The workers must wrench the power from the hands of the blood-drenched capitalist criminals and take their destiny in their own hands. The fight for socialism is now more than a fight to end poverty and inequality, to abolish the exploitation of man by man. Today the fight for socialism is a fight to prevent the annihilation of the human race. Mankind must now exterminate the capitalist system—or be exterminated!”

The fight for a communist future of humanity is our only guarantee to life—to live for the first time as free human beings, administering a world socialist order of material abundance and cultural enrichment, in which all of our potentials can be realized. That is what the Spartacist League, the U.S. section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), fights for. We call on you to join us in that fight.