When it comes to anti-immigrant bigotry, it is pretty clear that the Republican Party is an enemy. Republicans have pushed the worst anti-immigrant laws in states from Arizona to Alabama. During this election campaign period, they need Latino votes as much as Democrats do. But they have still been bending over backwards to talk and stand “tough on immigration.” Republicans are also at the forefront of attacks on people of color, youth and the working class in general.
But the Democratic Party is also an enemy. And immigrants are among the people getting severely abused under policies put in place and carried out by President Obama and the Democrats. The main difference is that Democrats have the need to cover up their terrible policies.
The Obama Administration has deported a record number of immigrants for three years in a row, up to almost 400,000 deportations last year. Obama has continued to step up the implementation of the “Secure Communities” program (known as S-Comm) started by former President Bush. Under S-Comm, now operative in 44 states, cops automatically send fingerprints of every person arrested to Homeland Security so that their immigration status can be determined. While there has been much resistance to S-Comm in a number of localities, Obama has turned a deaf ear, insisting that the program will go nationwide next year. (For background on S-Comm see Immigrant Workers and the U.S. Class Struggle.)
Under Obama, the U.S. government has also been building more and larger detention centers to hold immigrants – another aspect of his escalated efforts for greater and speedier mass deportations. As one example of resistance on that score, protests against the efforts to erect such a private facility in Crete, Illinois, just outside of Chicago, have temporarily stayed the construction there.
However, the resistance today is generally very weak and will have to become a lot more massive to build a defense for immigrants. The situation threatens to get far worse for most people if the strategy of reliance on the capitalist Democratic Party is allowed to continue.
While President Obama revs up his re-election campaign, working people, immigrant and U.S. born alike, should never forget that he came into office pushing bailouts for Wall Street. The result? More foreclosures, cutbacks and layoffs. To this day, the great majority are being asked to bleed more on behalf of greater profits for a small group of capitalists. Obama during his whole term has continued to advocate tax breaks for businesses and budget cuts for workers. This great advocate of bipartisan compromise has repeatedly caved in to the demands for even more anti-worker pro-corporate policies coming from the Republican Party.
In turn, the whole Republican Party has been busy caving into its rabid Tea Party fringe, so that the whole government has been pulled to the right. The effects are not only economic but clearly social. The setting of joblessness and deprivation provokes more anti-immigrant scapegoating and other related effects. It has become controversial to make basic statements in favor of social justice for people of color, women, gays and other oppressed groups. It was no accident that it took Obama 25 days to register any sympathy with Trayvon Martin – and even those tepid remarks on race were a rarity, partly induced by his need to woo people of color back to the voting booth in November.
As with the Republicans, the heart of the Democratic Party, along with its money and power, belongs to wealthy capitalists. Capitalism by its nature must try to divide and conquer the working class, in order to maximize profits at the workers’ expense. Under the conditions of deep economic crisis of the past few years, the drives of the system to scapegoat immigrants, people of color, youth and “greedy union workers” for the problems of unemployment, inadequate health care and education, and poverty caused by the profit-making system itself, go into high gear.
Anti-immigrant chauvinism, racism and immiseration of the working class are features of capitalism at this time, not of any one given capitalist party or politician. Thus revolutionary socialists oppose voting for candidates of any capitalist party and champion instead an alternative strategy, based on the power of the working class to fight for its own interests. The working class can unite to beat back specific capitalist attacks. People of color, especially youth, will be key to developing a rising fightback. And revolutionary socialists will fight in every struggle to build as strong a movement as possible. We also believe that the only lasting solution is to get rid of capitalism altogether. Socialist revolution will put the working class in power and replace the current system based on production for private profit with a new society based on production to satisfy human needs.
Only a small minority of people in this country are currently convinced of the idea of revolution. But there are a whole lot more people who are passionately dissatisfied with the existing performance of the Democrats as well as the Republicans, especially immigrant rights activists. Thus Sarahi Uribe, an organizer for the National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON), wrote an article on “The two faces of Obama on immigration” in which she observed that the administration “appears to be playing both sides of a bitter debate over immigration reform.”
Uribe noted, for example, that last August the administration “announced that it would unilaterally impose its controversial deportation program ...upon every city in the United States by 2013,” a policy that “stunned the immigrant justice community... .” But Uribe also noted that same month they “announced that it would review 300,000 pending deportation cases and temporarily stay the deportations of individuals deemed ‘low priority’....” The point of such a press release was for Obama to appear as if he were benevolently giving “good” immigrants a break while protecting society from dangerous felons. In truth the vast majority of the “felons” being deported are totally non-threatening, only guilty of the crime of repeated immigration violations like returning to the U.S. more than once.
Uribe correctly went on to point out that “The Obama Administration seeks to make its unprecedented level of deportations palatable by dismissing those deported as criminals. ... The distorted use of this term, along with the expansion of immigration enforcement programmes like S-Comm, have driven the country further away from legalizing the very people the president claims he’s fighting for.”
Uribe unfortunately concludes with the hope that Obama will reverse what she sees as his two-faced policies. But after the need to woo the Latino vote is over, Obama will be as unmotivated to make any actual concessions as he was before. Only a powerful independent workers’ movement can force change in a way that elections cannot.
In contrast, the columnist and author Ruben Navarette holds out no hope for change from Obama. (See his article “Latino frustration with Obama; voters face choice ‘between terrible and dreadful’”. Navarette notes first that Black voters appear more approving of Obama than Hispanics, but that there is also frustration because of his inattention to issues like economic development in Black communities, high unemployment among Black youth, and a failing school system. He quotes Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report:
We at Black Agenda Report do not think that Barack Obama is the Lesser Evil. He is the more Effective Evil. He has been more effective in Evil-Doing than Bush in terms of protecting the citadels of corporate power, and advancing the imperial agenda. He has put both Wall Street and U.S. imperial power on new and more aggressive tracks – just as he hired himself out to do. ... There is absolutely no factual basis to believe he intends to do anything other than the same thing he has already done, whether Democrats control Congress or not, which is to serve Wall Street’s most fundamental interests.
Navarette then adds his own thoughts:
It’s the same way in the Latino community, where the president’s defenders are pushing three arguments: Obama’s intentions toward Latinos are purer than those of Republicans; Obama only drifted to the right and became a hard-liner on immigration because Republicans in Congress pressured him; and Latinos have no choice but to vote for Obama because the Republican alternatives would be so much worse.
Navarette is himself a mainstream voice who doesn’t draw the conclusion that Latino workers and others should break from both capitalist parties. However, his insight into Obama’s role and betrayals is valuable.
But what about the argument that Obama deserves support as the lesser evil? On a practical level, racial profiling is a case in point. Profiling practices were written into a number of state laws that Obama has opposed. Alabama’s HB 56 law, for example, went further than Arizona’s notorious SB 1070 in directing local police to carry out profiling of Latinos and Spanish speakers: it requires cops to act on a “reasonable suspicion” that a person is an undocumented immigrant to determine their legal status. HB 56 also prohibits the hiring of undocumented immigrants for any job, bars them from receiving any public benefits, and even makes it illegal to rent property to them.
But the ACLU and other mainstream organizations that advocate for democratic rights have argued that in and of itself “the S-Comm] program encourages racial profiling and undermines equal protection and due process rights.” The ACLU noted:
By continuing to operate S-Comm in Alabama and other jurisdictions with records of discriminatory policing ... the Department of Homeland Security is actively fostering racial profiling of Latinos and other immigrants. (www.aclu.org/immigrants-rights/aclu-sec-napolitanos-emphasis-s-comm-program-will-lead-racial-profiling-other)
In fact, since all police departments have “records of discriminatory policing,” it doesn’t take much foresight to realize that S-Comm is bound to perpetuate racial profiling everywhere, even if this is not written into the policy.
Some argue that by opposing the particular laws in Arizona and Alabama, Obama is still the “lesser evil.” After all, those laws are worse on paper than S-Comm. Indeed, in the case of the Arizona law, most of its bad provisions were struck down in court when the Federal government under Obama challenged them. So far the courts have upheld more of the rotten attacks embedded in Alabama’s law. But there is obviously a lot of racial profiling going on across the states, no matter what the law on the books, given the general atmosphere that S-Comm and Obama help promote.
The Supreme Court has just started hearing arguments based on an appeal of the Arizona law – an appeal by forces that wish to reinstate the original SB 1070 in its full venom. Given the political conjuncture, it is likely that the Court will uphold the current provisions, but it is certainly possible that it could reinstate provisions struck down by a lower court. The Supreme Court decision will affect not only Arizona but also Alabama, as well as Indiana, Georgia and other states. There are more states waiting in the wings who have hesitated to pass copycat laws until they see the decision ahead.
It is probable promoters of Obama and other Democratic Party politicians will publicize the brief filed by the DOJ under Obama’s auspices. But the brief does not advocate the equal treatment of immigrants with native-born Americans. On the contrary, the legal basis for opposition to Arizona and the other state statutes is that the authority to police immigrant flow and set policy must remain with the Federal authorities. (See immigrationimpact.com/2012/03/20/supreme-court-brief-on-sb-1070-arizona-seeking-confrontation-not-cooperation/ for a useful summary.)
All in all, relying on the capitalist courts to protect immigrant workers is a severe mistake. Only mass struggle can scare the ruling class into backing off of these or any of the other attacks facing the workers and oppressed. However, one effect of the pro-Obama electoral push has been the lack of any mobilization in the face of a potentially momentous case affecting immigrants before the Supreme Court. It is one more sign that pro-Democratic Party leaders have been refusing to call for and build for any movement that could upset capitalist politics as usual, especially in an election year. (See our article Wisconsin: A Tale of Betrayal.)
The anti-immigrant drive comes in the context of growing attacks on workers and oppressed people, as just one part of the general assault on workers and poor. The murder of Trayvon Martin has focused attention on racist brutality against Black and Latino people by vigilantes as well as the police. Incarceration rates for young Black and Latino men are at record levels. Muslims are a tremendous target of profiling, as the recent NYPD scandal about the monitoring of student groups testifies. The poverty and unemployment statistics for people of color, especially youth, are staggering. Obviously there is a strong basis for common cause among people of color.
If the immigrant rights movement is to revive and become an effective fighting force, it must seize opportunities to unite with broader numbers of workers, especially Black workers who have been the prime victims of racism through this country’s history and who have a powerful and militant tradition. As well, Black workers who can already see through the divide-and-conquer scheme of the ruling class are in a good position to fight for united action with other victimized workers.
While the hostility to Blacks and Latinos by too many white workers and middle-class people is obvious, the system also encourages hostilities between Black and Latino people as well as hostilities between American-born and foreign-born, and so forth. Again, one agency for this is the Democratic Party, which often poses as the champions of oppressed people in contrast to the blatantly racist Republican right. But the Democrats’ main role is to effectively derail struggles for equality and justice that inevitably clash with the needs of capitalism and imperialism. Directly and indirectly, different sections of the working class are set up to fight with each other, nationally and internationally, while the capitalist bosses continue to benefit. It is probably most tragic when different groups of oppressed people are pushed to fight over a shrinking pie out of a desperation created by a system that no part of the working class can control.
The capitalist system fosters racism, national chauvinism and other poisons in order to divert the working class from understanding who its real enemies are. Only through forging a united fightback that also takes fighting racism seriously can such obstacles be overcome. Interracial and international working-class unity is a burning necessity. More white workers can also come to see the need for such unity, and there are anti-racist white workers and youth who already see it.
This does not mean that Blacks, Latinos and other national, ethnic and religious minorities have to wait for white workers to join the struggle. There are many instances where oppressed groups have indeed been forced to fight for their survival without much help from better-off white workers – and in isolation from each other as well. And these historic struggles, each of which came out of specific traditions and circumstances, accomplished a great deal in the past – and will enrich the struggles ahead.
At the same time there have been many examples of workers beginning to overcome these divisions and uniting in struggle. A common defense would be the most powerful way forward. The League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP) has often advocated a perspective of a general strike against the capitalist attacks as the best way to build a united defense.
The activists operating under the umbrella of Occupy Wall Street in New York and elsewhere have been advocating a “General Strike” for May Day this year, in a way that is – sadly – pure fantasy. As we explained in our bulletin analyzing the OWS phenomenon, the symbolic resistance to Wall Street last fall initially got a lot of support from the working class public, despite the fact that the occupiers were mainly better-off middle-class youth. The leading forces in OWS also lacked any perspective of working-class struggle or a Marxist understanding of capitalism and what would be needed to turn the tide. Thus they failed to make the necessary demands on the trade unions, the main organizations of the working class, as well as other important mainstream organizations that claim to represent people of color. (See Occupy Wall Street: A Marxist Assessment for our full analysis.)
The unions, even though they represent a small percentage of workers, have big resources and influence. They are capable of launching major struggles against Wall Street and the capitalist bosses in general that could unite union workers with the vast majority of non-union workers. But they refuse to do so because the union leaders are loyal supporters of the Democratic Party and the capitalist system.
It is necessary for workers and youth to begin to seriously discuss the importance of mass action and the relevance of a serious general strike strategy for changing the balance of forces in this country. It can be an invaluable tactic. As revolutionary socialists, when we pose the need for such mass action as a general strike, we explicitly raise the need to fight against such current misleaders of our class who stand as a huge obstacle to the exercise of working-class power. We do not hide the fact that we think that reformist misleaders will inevitably have to be replaced. When we fight for mass action we argue for demands like End All Restrictions on Immigration, Complete Amnesty Now! and Stop All Racist and Chauvinist Attacks! We also raise demands like Stop the Budget Cuts! Jobs For All! and A Program of Public Works to help unify the working class and show how to start to solve the unemployment crisis and provide the quality services and infrastructure the whole society needs.
But such measures and many others equally critical cannot be achieved so long as capitalism and imperialism continue to exist. Through the experience of powerful independent struggles, workers will see that real victories are possible. There is no value in believing that some or another section of the capitalist class is going to fight on our behalf in any serious way, but such illusions can be overcome over time. Through experiencing our strength as a class, more workers and youth will also come to see the need to get rid of the capitalist system entirely. The most politically conscious workers and youth must join together to build a new, revolutionary party of the working class that can show the way to win immediate aims while raising consciousness of the need for socialist revolution.
The economic crisis of today is not going to disappear. Rather, the desperate drive of capitalists to boost their profits rates will inevitably push imperialists to intervene more aggressively in the “third world” as well as intensify competition between the great powers themselves. Ultimately, another Great Depression would bring the danger of world war to the fore, unless this rotten system can be overthrown through international revolution.
The uprisings that have swept the Middle East in the last year have already shown the potential of working and oppressed masses to rise up and fight for revolutionary change. But so far Egypt and Tunisia have also confirmed that struggles against imperialism and for democratic freedoms and economic wellbeing cannot succeed if they remain trapped within the limits of capitalism. Capitalist profit-making in general demands that the masses in the oppressed countries be kept in desperate poverty. The great imperialist powers in particular must continue their super-exploitation of the natural resources and labor of the neo-colonies. Under these conditions, democracy cannot flourish and true national liberation and the end of poverty is impossible in the oppressed nations of the Middle East, Latin America and Asia.
The obstacles now facing the people of the Mideast show the need for socialist revolution and also show the need for an international revolutionary party. Socialist revolution is necessary but it can only achieve its aims as part of a developing internationalist working-class movement, and with a perspective of supporting similar revolutions internationally. Capitalism and imperialism carry out their exploitation and oppression on an international scale, and the fight to overthrow their rule must be carried out on the international scale as well. Thus we advocate not just a revolutionary party in the U.S., but an international organization, the re-creation of the Fourth International founded under the leadership of the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky.
We appeal to workers and youth who are interested in our analysis, our proposals and our perspective to contact us. Join us in building the necessary fightback today, and join us in the fight for the socialist future!
May Day originated in the U.S. near the end of the nineteenth century when workers were in a growing struggle for the 8-hour workday. At that time, many workers were political radicals, and ideas of socialism were popular, given the misery of capitalism. Over a century later, workers and oppressed people are still suffering under a capitalist system which is now in severe decline.
Most Americans have been taught nothing about the historic roots of what became the International Workers’ Day, and do not realize that it symbolizes class struggle. A long time ago, union leaders substituted a “Labor Day” in September – when the unions can give a platform to local Democratic Party hacks. Over time, fewer and fewer workers felt inspired to show up.
In 2006, the struggle of immigrants shook up the political scene and revived the fighting spirit signified by May Day. But this vibrant movement was told that it should focus on getting rid of President Bush and the Republicans and voting in Democrats instead as the way to win its goals. This strategy killed the movement off in a few years. Today it is necessary to find the way to revive and extend that struggle of 2006 and with it the struggle of all people of color, youth – and the working class of this country at large. The struggles of all workers and oppressed have been profoundly subordinated to Democratic Party politics.