September 2005   
Katrina Aftermath: Capitalist Land Grab
Black People Flooded Out, Now Kept Out

Louisiana state police SWAT team drives past flood victims still trapped in New
Orleans September 1, days after hurricane struck.
(Eric Gay/AP)

The ravaging of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina has deeply shocked the country and the world. What horrified people was not the raw force of nature but the proof of a man-made disaster. What they saw through the television lens was a monstrous crime, racist mass murder carried out by the rulers of capitalist America against the downtrodden that they exploit and oppress. By now everyone knows that 100,000 people, overwhelmingly black and poor, were left to die in the “New Orleans Death Trap”: the levees that authorities knew couldn’t handle a big storm but weren’t repaired because the money went to the war on Iraq; the patients trapped in public hospitals without supplies while those in private hospitals were taken out by helicopter; the “evacuation” that provided no transportation for those without cars and money. The evidence is irrefutable that race and class determined who escaped and who didn’t, who lived and who perished there from drowning, starvation and unbearable heat. The images of bodies floating in the flood waters for two weeks with no one picking them up are now seared into the collective memory. Together with the harrowing photos of the torture and sexual degradation of prisoners by their American jailers at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, these are an unforgettable visual indictment of the criminal nature of U.S. imperialism. And the conclusion is just as inescapable: We need a revolution!

Today the Big Easy is a police-state encampment, occupied by an estimated 14,000 heavily armed government men and their machine guns, patrolled by military trucks, “up-armored” Humvees, Black Hawks and Chinooks. The poor and working people of New Orleans, black and white, but mainly black, have been dispersed across a half-dozen states. In their shelters they are wondering whether the government means this diaspora to be temporary, or will it attempt to bar them from ever returning to New Orleans. Some may be starting to feel like the Palestinians displaced by the Israeli Zionists in 1948 who are still sitting in their “temporary” refugee camps today. When the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) tried to stuff them onto cruise ships in the New Orleans harbor, flood survivors refused to go aboard. After being locked down in the New Orleans Superdome and then the Houston Astrodome, their experience told them these would quickly become prison ships. So instead FEMA is building huge trailer parks where tens of thousands are to be housed, “temporarily” of course. We demand the right to return of every person and family driven from New Orleans!

Since the hurricane every day has brought new revelations about how the government systematically prevented doctors, nurses, firefighters and anyone else from reaching those marooned in the flooded city, how it blocked ambulances, helicopters, buses and boats from evacuating the exhausted and dying from hospitals and the hellhole collection centers, how “first responders” were ordered not to respond and Air Force pilots who heroically survivors were reprimanded. Now the bourgeois media are beginning to admit that the stories they broadcast and printed about thugs raping and murdering people, about rampaging “anarchy” in New Orleans, were wildly exaggerated. At most there were a handful of cases. A racist frenzy was whipped up, pure scare propaganda. But why? Because the principal objective of the government at all levels – local, state but especially federal – was not to rescue the victims but to militarily occupy the devastated city and put the population under martial law.

New Orleans police, 4 Sept. 2005New Orleans cops patrol the city in pick-up trucks and plainclothes like “technicals” in Somalia, September 4. U.S. officials declared they were engaged in “combat” against “insurgents,” in order to justify plans for internal war.
(Photo:  Marko Georgiev for the New York Times)

The head of the Pentagon’s National Guard Bureau, Lt.-Gen. Steven Blum, frankly stated in a September 3 Defense Department briefing that “we waited until we had enough force in place to do an overwhelming force” and that they “stormed the convention center” (although he admitted that “there was absolutely no opposition”). The general called the whole operation “a great success story – a terrific success story.” These were not the demented ravings of a General Jack D. Ripper out of the movie Dr. Strangelove but the official spokesman for the U.S. military. The units sent into New Orleans were not search-and-rescue units but National Guard Military Police, the Army’s 82nd Airborne and 1st Cavalry divisions and the 1st and 2nd Marine Expeditionary Forces, back from Iraq where they “stormed” Baghdad in the 2003 U.S. invasion. Many of their tactics were the same in both cities, only here they were engaging in “combat operations” (against mythical “insurgents” who put up no resistance) as part of a program for internal war.

This is no exaggeration but a precise description of the plans drawn up by the Defense (War) Department long before 11 September 2001, which led to the establishment of the U.S. Northern Command. Once fatuously described as an “office in search of a mission” (Christian Science Monitor, 25 February 2002), NORTHCOM is now larger than the command center for all U.S. operations in Latin America (SOUTHCOM). Its mission is to set the stage for junking the legal prohibition against using the military to police the domestic population, the proscriptions of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 which have been increasingly skirted by Republican and Democratic administrations alike (as in the Clinton administration’s murderous 1993 attack on the Branch Davidian religious sect in Waco, Texas). The Pentagon used the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center as the pretext for putting Lower Manhattan under martial law for weeks. Now in New Orleans the generals have seized the opportunity to lock down an entire city indefinitely.

In his September 15 speech pledging unlimited federal aid to rebuilding New Orleans, Bush declared that such a “challenge” “requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces.” As of September 14, the U.S. had more than 68,000 troops on the ground or on ships in the New Orleans area, a city whose police force totaled a little over 1,500 cops (two-thirds of whom have since quit or left town). NBC-TV Nightly News anchor Brian Williams reports in his Internet “web log,” or blog:

“It is impossible to over-emphasize the extent to which this area is under government occupation, and portions of it under government-enforced lockdown. Police cars rule the streets. They (along with Humvees, ambulances, fire apparatus, FEMA trucks and all official-looking SUVs) are generally not stopped at checkpoints and roadblocks. All other vehicles are subject to long lines and snap judgments and must PROVE they have vital business inside the vast roped-off regions here.”

In addition, mercenary outfits like Blackwater USA (the “contractors” whose professional killers in Iraq were strung up in Falluja in April 2004, leading to Washington’s decision to destroy the city), the Steele Foundation (which helped facilitate the kidnapping of Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide last year while ostensibly protecting him) and Wackenhut Security (specialists in scab-herding) are protecting the properties of their various capitalist clients.

In 2001, the Bush administration used the 9/11 attack to implement its war plans for an invasion of Iraq, preceded by the occupation of Afghanistan, as well to implement a battery of police-state repressive laws, all dutifully voted for by the Democrats. Now it is using the Katrina hurricane and ensuing flood of New Orleans to implement its domestic agenda. No-bid contracts worth billions have been handed out to Bush/Cheney cronies such as the Halliburton Corporation, notorious for its Iraq war profiteering; the “prevailing wage” requirements of the Davis-Bacon Act have been suspended, facilitating the use of low-wage non-union companies; requirements for affirmative action plans facilitating employment of minorities have been dropped. Mayor Ray Nagin has invited Wal-Mart to build a superstore. But while big corporations will get whopping tax breaks in “opportunity zones,” the impoverished population of the 98 percent black Lower Ninth Ward will not be allowed back into their houses, which will probably be bulldozed. As David Banner rapped at an Atlanta “Heal the Hood” fundraising benefit, “Bush is giving his homeboys Halliburton the rebuilding contracts to our cities....  They been waiting to tear our ghettos down and separate us from our land.”

As usual, this operation is carried out under the pretense of “aiding” the victims, building better homes than the “shotgun houses” with no hallways that were common in poor black neighborhoods of New Orleans. Of course, they leave out the little fact that the former residents of Bywater and the Ninth Ward won’t be able to afford the new housing. Barbara Bush, matriarch of the Bush dynasty, sounded like Marie Antoinette (“Let them eat cake”) when she visited hurricane relief centers in Houston. With bourgeois condescension toward the newly “homeless” of New Orleans, she remarked:

“What I’m hearing which is sort of scary is they all want to stay in Texas....  And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this – this (she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them.”
Editor and Publisher, 5 September
In the 1950s and ’60s, as real estate interests, city hall pols and Washington bureaucrats got together to tear down inner-city ghettos to replace them with middle-class housing, business districts and Interstate highways, protesters chanted that “urban renewal is Negro removal.” Today, as U.S. wages its terrorist “war on terror,” what we are seeing in New Orleans is “ethnic cleansing” American-style.

The not-so-liberal bourgeois media and the Democratic Party, long intimidated by the hard-ball conservative politics of the Bush gang, have shown unaccustomed gumption over the New Orleans disaster, complaining of the “slow pace” and “incompetence” of the Bush response. This is an echo of John Kerry’s 2004 “we can do better” Democratic presidential campaign. The White House tried to dismiss this as a “blame game,” while Bush repeatedly scurried back to the Gulf Coast to rescue his presidency. Appealing to common ruling-class interests, the New York Times (2 September) editorialized: “America clearly needs a larger active-duty Army. It just as clearly needs a homeland-based National Guard that’s fully prepared and ready for any domestic emergency.” Yet for the dispossessed, it’s not that the Bush regime was too slow in sending in the 82nd Airborne, but that the imperialist military – under both of the twin parties of U.S. capitalism – exists to serve the rich and powerful, the ruling class. For them, the two-thirds black population and working people of New Orleans are the enemy. \

FEMA: “First Responders Urged Not to Respond”

Troops with corpse in New Orleans, 7 Sept. 2005
Soldiers examine dead body still lying on New Orleans street September 7, nine
days after hurricane hit city. FEMA privatized collection of corpses, giving
contract to company that was big Bush campaign contributor. 
(Photo:Nicole Bengiveno/New York Times)

As the first televised news reports of the flooding following Hurricane Katrina came out, viewers could not believe what they were seeing. One hundred thousand exhausted people were left stranded in New Orleans without sufficient food and fresh water to survive. Many were the sick and elderly from nursing homes and hospitals; most were the city’s poor and mainly black residents, who did not have their own means of leaving town nor a place to go when the mayor issued the evacuation order a day and a half before the hurricane hit. As heart-wrenching scenes were shown day after day and conditions deteriorated in the Superdome, called the “shelter of last resort” by Mayor Nagin, people asked: Where is the government? Where are the rescuers? Critics are now accusing the Bush regime of “incompetence” over the “botched rescue operation.” The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Michael Brown, has been dumped as a sacrificial lamb. But the feds weren’t slow to respond, they immediately organized a gigantic military operation to keep out all those who were attempting to help.

As a division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the post-9/11 federal police superagency, FEMA was intent on locking down New Orleans from the moment Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. That very day, August 29, FEMA issued an ominous bulletin titled “First Responders Urged Not to Respond to Hurricane Impact Areas Unless Dispatched by State, Local Authorities” (available on the FEMA Internet site). On September 2, the Red Cross told astonished reporters that the “Homeland Security Department has requested and continues to request that the American Red Cross not come back into New Orleans.... Right now access is controlled by the National Guard and local authorities. We have been at the table every single day [asking for access]. We cannot get into New Orleans against their orders” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 3 September). That didn’t stop the Red Cross from cashing in on the disaster, however. The “humanitarian” agency raised almost three-quarters of a billion dollars in relief aid although it had no shelter in New Orleans and refused to build shelters in the coastal flood plains.

The FEMA bulletin and DHS directives discouraged many would-be aid workers like those who rushed to the rubble of the World Trade Center on September 11 trying to pull out survivors. But the Bush regime did far more to keep rescuers out. They established a military cordon around New Orleans to make sure no help could get through.  Take the following incidents, only a few among many reported in the bourgeois media:

  • On August 31, a caravan of 1,000 volunteers towing 500 private boats assembled in Lafayette at the appeal of a Louisiana state senator and headed toward New Orleans with a police escort from the Jefferson Parish sheriff’s department. This would have been a formidable flotilla of navigators with years of experience on Louisiana waterways. However, according to a participant, when they got off the Interstate, they found their way blockaded by FEMA. Agents said no boat over 16 feet would be allowed. They also refused to let the boatmen go to hospitals to ferry out patients who were dying there. All 500 were turned back. A couple who got through to the launch site of the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (under FEMA command) reported “there were over 200 DWF agents just standing around and doing nothing.... FEMA would not let them help” (reported on the Securing America web log, 3 September; WNYC radio, 5 September; and the Lafayette Daily Advertiser, 12 September).
  • The Navy amphibious assault ship USS Bataan, with 1,200 sailors, a fully equipped and staffed 600-bed hospital, and capacity to generate plenty of electricity and 100,000 gallons of fresh water a day, rode out the storm in the Gulf of Mexico and attempted to aid New Orleans as soon as it passed. FEMA turned the Bataan away (Chicago Tribune, 4 September).
  • Some 1,400 firefighters from all over the country headed to the Gulf Coast to help. But they were corralled by FEMA and sent to Atlanta . . . for public relations training. Told that their job would be to shuffle around the region passing out fliers telling people to call 1-800-621-FEMA, some peeled off their FEMA-issued shirts in disgust. “They’ve got people here who are search-and-rescue certified, paramedics, haz-mat [hazardous materials] certified,” complained a Texas firefighter. One team of 50 firemen did make it to New Orleans, though. Their assignment: to stand by President Bush for photo ops as he toured devastated areas (Salt Lake City Tribune, 12 September).
  • A highly trained Houston-area oil-fire-fighting unit tried to deploy to New Orleans anyway, but was prevented at gunpoint by FEMA-controlled agents (participant report on the liberal Daily Kos weblog, September 5).
  • The American Ambulance Association offered to provide 300 emergency vehicles but the General Services Administration and FEMA turned them down (Washington Post, 4 September).
  • The city of Chicago offered to send “hundreds of personnel . . . and dozens of vehicles” to New Orleans’ aid, but FEMA declined, saying all that was needed from Chicago was a single tank truck (Chicago Tribune, 2 September).
  • Hundreds of doctors and nurses from far and wide have attempted to aid stricken New Orleans residents, only to be turned away by the U.S. government. Among those stopped from carrying out their life-saving missions by FEMA gun thugs: a 113-bed state-of-the art mobile hospital with 100 surgeons and paramedics (which drove in a convoy for 30 hours from North Carolina), and a large medical team from Georgia with 31 doctors, nurses and paramedics (Atlanta Journal and Constitution, 5 September).
  • Even U.S. military personnel who sought to help people were blocked and punished. When two Navy helicopter pilots ferried a hundred or so exhausted and stranded people to local hospitals, they were formally reprimanded for these acts of compassion and human decency, and reassigned to take care of officers’ pets (New York Times, 7 September).
  • Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish in New Orleans, catalogued the following incidents of FEMA’s assault on the rescuers on NBC’s Meet the Press on September 4: “We had Wal-Mart deliver three trucks of water, trailer trucks of water. FEMA turned them back. They said we didn’t need them. This was a week ago . . . . we had 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel on a Coast Guard vessel docked in my parish.  The Coast Guard said, ‘Come get the fuel right away.’  When we got there with our trucks, they got a word. ‘FEMA says don’t give you the fuel.’ Yesterday FEMA comes in and cuts all of our emergency communication lines.  They cut them without notice.” Broussard wept as he told of the death of his friend’s mother, left stranded in a nursing home for four days as he desperately pleaded for rescuers.

International offers of aid have been routinely ignored or rebuffed by the U.S. government. Cuba, the world’s most advanced country when it comes to hurricane response, has offered to send over a thousand of its highly trained and respected doctors, each equipped with a specially developed 50-pound hurricane relief pack. The State Department refused the offer, and then lied that it was never made. The U.S. also refused Venezuela’s offer of gasoline, heating oil, and doctors, and Sweden’s offer of thousands of working cell phones so refugees in shelters could contact relatives and friends (Democracy Now! WBAI radio, September 7).

As the toll of confirmed dead climbs over 1,000, the fact that at least 154 of the bodies were recovered in New Orleans hospitals and nursing homes has caused an uproar. There may be cases of negligence by individual operators, but many doctors, nurses and hospital workers acted heroically to save the patients. A New York Times (19 September) investigation showed that in facility after facility, the feds turned around or commandeered trucks, buses, boats and helicopters that had been sent to aid the patients. Memorial Medical Center (35 dead): on Day 3, hospital officials were told by Office of Emergency Preparedness that they were “on their own”; at that point they could not get buses or drivers. Methodist Hospital (16 dead): the company which runs the hospital contracted two trucks with food, water and fuel – “confiscated by federal authorities” – and hired two helicopters – “officials refused to let them fly.” Maison Hospitalière (4 dead): “FEMA officials had told drivers it was too dangerous to enter.”

Many of those who died were drowned in the rising waters, after days of waiting for promised rescue boats that were never permitted to get near them. Flood survivors with nowhere else to go were directed by local authorities to the Louisiana Superdome and the New Orleans Convention Center. The thousands who streamed in from the flooded city slums, through chest-deep oily and sewage-filled water, were abandoned to their fate. When National Guard soldiers arrived they treated the survivors like prisoners and trained their guns on them.

After officials locked down the filled Superdome and Convention Center, straggling refugees tried to get out on foot. Many were told to walk to the Pontchartrain Expressway and cross the Mississippi River to the West Bank, where they would be met by buses. Thousands tried to make this trip, but there were no buses at the other side, only a cordon of Gretna sheriffs, who fired volleys over their heads. Some set up a camp on the expressway, in the hopes that they would be noticed and rescued. At dusk, however, a police chopper used its backdraft to blow away the flimsy shelters the refugees had built against the pouring rain, while a Gretna sheriff aimed his gun and screamed “Get off the fucking freeway.” As the frightened flood victims retreated, the sheriff loaded his truck with their meager supplies (Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky, New Orleans Indymedia report, September 7).

“Troops Begin Combat Operations in New Orleans”

What would lead local, state and federal authorities to adopt such a murderous response toward the surviving victims of a disaster? Gut racism, certainly, from sheriffs on the bridges over the Mississippi, or the squads of heavily armed white cops and others who cruised through the streets of New Orleans in pick-up trucks hunting down black residents. “Ninth Ward n_____rs” were Texas’ problem now, remarked one caught on a reporter’s tape recorder (Democracy Now! September 6), referring to the thousands of evacuees who were eventually bused from New Orleans’ Superdome to Houston’s Astrodome. The mood was captured by one of the state’s grinning gun thugs, who jokingly told a reporter, “if you wanted to kill someone here, this was a good time” (New York Times, 8 September). It has been widely noted (except by Bush’s black front woman, the despicable secretary of state Condoleezza Rice) how the callous disregard for black lives shown by the government in New Orleans contrasts with their attitude toward white suburbanites hit by hurricanes in North Carolina or Florida.

Torture in Iraq, bodies floating in New Orleans, images of crimes of U.S. imperialism. 
(Photo courtesy of The New Yorker)

But there was more to it than a bunch of racist yahoos run amok, much more. The deliberate, racist mass murder in New Orleans was official government policy coming straight from Republican Bush in the White House and extending down to Democratic senator Mary Landrieu, Democratic governor Kathleen Blanco and the black Democratic mayor Nagin in New Orleans. The tragic events of the last two weeks are a brutal object lesson in the class nature of the state. As Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote a century and a half ago, “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie” (The Communist Manifesto [1848]). As Engels later spelled it out in his book, The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884), the state consists of a “special, public power” consisting of “armed men” as well as “prisons, and institutions of coercion of all kinds,” by means of which “the economically dominant class ... becomes also the politically dominant class, and thus acquires new means of holding down and exploiting the oppressed class....”

During times of slavery, black people by law “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect,” as Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney held in the infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision which denied that people of African ancestry were or ever could be citizens. Today the United States claims to export bourgeois “democracy” at gunpoint around the globe, to make the world safe for exploitation by ExxonMobil, Halliburton and Citibank. Then and now, the capitalist state, as a special body of armed men dedicated to “holding down and exploiting the oppressed class,” is the enemy of black people and all poor and working people. The state of siege in New Orleans is no isolated episode, but is closely tied to the U.S. war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan. As we have repeatedly emphasized, imperialist war abroad means racist police-state repression “at home.” The imposition of martial law in New Orleans and the removal of its entire population is not an exercise in “emergency management.” It is a first taste of long-standing plans by the U.S. bourgeoisie to “impose order” in America’s inner cities through preventive internal war against the exploited and oppressed.

We noted in our previous article (“New Orleans Death Trap,” see page 6) that “the occupation of New Orleans resembled nothing so much as the U.S. takeover of Baghdad” – no accident since it was carried out by some of the same military units. Taking their cue from the feds, the makeshift headquarters of the notoriously racist and corrupt New Orleans Police Department was nicknamed the “Green Zone,” after the fortified HQ area of the U.S. occupiers in the Iraqi capital. Outside the Green Zone, whether in Baghdad or New Orleans, the people are in the gunsights of the government’s war machine. In Iraq, the colonial subjects have yet to be “pacified” – a determined insurgency has frustrated the U.S. expeditionary forces and the Iraqi puppet “government” and army. Fearing that the endless bloodbath in the Near East could stir unrest in the U.S., as occurred in the ghetto upheavals of the late 1960s during the Vietnam War, the imperialists have been sent stormtroopers to subdue the minority population under the iron heel of martial law. New Orleans is intended as a bloody lesson to the rest of us.

The day before President Bush entered the city, the semi-official Army Times (2 September) announced that “Troops Begin Combat Operations in New Orleans.” This was not just a headline writer’s exaggeration. The article said a “massive citywide security mission” had been mounted to “fight the insurgency in the city.” The article quoted Brig. Gen. Gary Jones, commander of the Louisiana National Guard’s Joint Task Force Katrina, saying: “This place is going to look like Little Somalia.... We’re going to go out and take this city back. This will be a combat operation to get this city under control.” Take the city back . . . from whom, from the hapless and helpless people who were stranded there? On the face of it, this is demented. The supposed “insurgency” consists of a couple of potshots against helicopters. The reports of rampaging murder and mayhem in the darkened city have been shown to be wildly escalating rumors. Gunfights in the Superdome? Not a shred of evidence of this has been produced. In any case, it would have been pretty difficult since all those going into that giant holding pen were searched.

As for the talk of turning New Orleans into “Little Somalia,” this refers to the U.S. military’s psychosis about the fiasco of the U.S. racist invasion of the African country of Somalia in 1993 (under the Democratic Clinton administration) lyingly mythologized in Black Hawk Down. What that gung-ho movie did not show, of course, was the string of murderous atrocities committed against unarmed Somali civilians by the U.S. military before outraged resisters shot down two helicopters and killed 18 Army Rangers in a fierce gun battle in the capital Mogadishu. The American forces, enraged at being defeated by people they considered an inferior race, showed their cowardice and depravity by murdering hundreds of unarmed Somali men, women, and children. Now the racist military officers want to avenge themselves for that humiliation by suppressing the black population of New Orleans. And they are backed by the government officials who issued “shoot to kill” orders against “looters,” referring to the flood victims trying to get water, food and diapers from waterlogged stores.

 “These troops are fresh back from Iraq, well trained, experienced, battle-tested, and under my orders to restore order in the streets,” declared Democratic governor Blanco. “They have M-16s and they are locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill and they are more than willing to do so if necessary and I expect they will” (ABC News, 2 September). While Washington expressed mild displeasure at Blanco’s refusal to hand over command of the Guard to the Pentagon, her blood lust seemed to please the feds. National Guard bureau chief Blum declared that the trapped population of New Orleans was violent and would be put down “in a quick and efficient manner.” The troops, Blum said, had just come from Iraq and Afghanistan and were “highly proficient in the use of lethal force” (Washington Post, 3 September).  How many atrocities have been committed by U.S. forces in New Orleans? Reporting is sketchy, photographing of bodies is forbidden, and guns have been pointed at reporters who are too nosy.

But all the talk of combat, insurgency and the reference to Somalia reveals something more. In our article, “American Gestapo” (The Internationalist No. 19, Summer 2004), we detailed the extensive planning by the U.S. military for carrying out “Military Operations on Urban Terrain” (MOUT) inside the United States. We noted:

“This has pushed aside earlier doctrines on Military Operations Other Than War (MOOTW): the army isn’t just planning for ‘peacekeeping’ during ‘civil disturbances’ in places like Los Angeles, they’re planning for war.”
A book-length study of urban counterinsurgency tactics published by the Institute of Strategic Studies of the U.S. Army War College, titled Soldiers in Cities (2001), cited the fighting in Mogadishu as a prime example of “Recent MOUT Failures.” The authors lament: “the outcome of this battle represented a major political defeat for the United States, spelling the beginning of the end of U.S. efforts to stabilize the situation in Somalia.” The study pointedly notes that “coincident with the end of the Cold War, the likelihood of U.S. military operations in the continental United States itself has also increased,” and that “the new national strategy of Homeland Defense gives the U.S. military a number of potential missions in cities and other urban areas within the United States itself.”

The volume is a series of case studies of “urban warfare” from the standpoint of counterrevolutionary counterinsurgency: it studies problems the Israelis encountered in their 1982 occupation/destruction of Beirut, Lebanon, reviews the 1968 battles of Hue and Saigon in Vietnam, lists where the German Wehrmacht screwed up in the Battle of Stalingrad, etc. The chapter on the Los Angeles “riots” of 1992 following the acquittal of the racist cops who brutally beat black L.A. motorist Rodney King notes in particular the “significant” “limitations” on police actions by federal troops by the Posse Comitatus Act. It is doubly significant, therefore, that in requesting that Louisiana governor Blanco hand over command of the National Guard to Washington, the Bush administration asked her to federalize the Guard under the provisions of the Insurrection Act of 1807, which would remove such restrictions. That is what is behind the reference to mythical “insurgency” and “combat” in New Orleans: the feds ominously wanted to declare that an “insurrection” was under way that had to be suppressed.

A Permanent Black Diaspora?

Interstate 10, 31 August 2005
Survivors of Hurricane Katrina trapped on Interstate 10 near the Superdome. When
they tried to cross over the Mississippi River bridges, racist cops fired on them.
(Photo: Irwin Thompson/Dallas Morning News)

The black population has been the prime target of internal repression since the republic was founded on the economic basis of chattel slavery. During the period of Radical Reconstruction following the defeat of the Southern slavocracy in the Civil War, the freed slaves attained some genuine democratic rights. But after 1876 as the Ku Klux Klan nightriders sowed terror in black communities and rigid Jim Crow segregation was instituted. Louisiana was in the vanguard of states that passed laws declaring that “one drop” of “black blood” was enough to classify a person as “colored.” Limited gains were won with the civil rights movement in the 1950s and ’60s, formally outlawing most forms of legal segregation but doing nothing about the endemic poverty which shackles the black poor. Even those gains are constantly being eroded as schools resegregate and the 1965 Voting Rights Act itself is under attack. In the “war on drugs” millions of black men have been jailed and permanently disenfranchised. Democrat Clinton abolished “welfare as we know it,” throwing millions of black women into increased poverty.

Given the racist legacy of American capitalism, past and present, in which black people have been corralled into hellish ghettos, north and south, are hounded by the cops, lack access to quality education and health care, are “last hired and first fired,” it is not surprising that blacks have been victimized in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Although New Orleans currently has a black mayor, the local rulers are infused with racism. In the home of jazz music and the Mardi Gras, the elite white “krewes” (Comus, Rex, Proteus, Momus) derived from aristocratic 19th-century secret societies, tightly controlled the parades and lorded it over the black Mardi Gras “Indians.” When ordered to desegregate in the early 1990s, most of them stopped parading but continued their exclusive, by invitation, whites-only balls. Now the business elite is moving with lighting speed to remake the city by emptying out the ghettos and expelling the black poor.

What is looming is a permanent diaspora of New Orleans blacks.  A clue to the ruling class’s intentions for post-Katrina New Orleans was revealed by unofficial Bush administration mouthpiece David Brooks, in a New York Times (8 September) column outrageously titled, “Katrina’s Silver Lining.” The silver lining for the capitalists, it seems, is the opportunity presented by the fact that Katrina “separated tens of thousands of poor people from the run-down isolated neighborhoods in which they were trapped.” Like the Bushes, Brooks is exultant at the idea that this government-enhanced disaster is turning hundreds of thousands of black residents into homeless evacuees, to be hunted down as looters or rounded up and deported to heavily policed “shelters.” Brooks says government must prevent them from ever coming back: “If we just put up new buildings and allow the same people to move back into their old neighborhoods, then urban New Orleans will become just as run down and dysfunctional as before.”

House Speaker Dennis Hastert took some flak for saying too bluntly what large sectors of the American bourgeoisie thinks, sneering that restoring largely black New Orleans “doesn’t make sense” and that “It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed” (Washington Post, 1 September). That he isn’t alone in this was shown by the comments of James Reiss, head of the New Orleans Business Council. As head of the Regional Transportation Authority, he was responsible for seeing to it that city buses were not marshaled in an organized evacuation effort. Reiss got out safely just before the storm hit, and then choppered back a few days later – with Israeli security guards – to his mansion in the gated Uptown millionaires’ community of Audubon Place. While tens of thousands were still stranded on rooftops and in the Superdome, Reiss organized a secret conclave of business leaders in Dallas to work out the plans for a new New Orleans, “cleansed” of poor black people. Through the house organ of American capital, Reiss issued a threat on behalf of his class:

“The new city must be something very different, Mr. Reiss says, with better services and fewer poor people. ‘Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way: demographically, geographically and politically,’ he says. ‘I’m not just speaking for myself here. The way we’ve been living is not going to happen again, or we’re out’.”
“Old-Line Families Plot the Future in New Orleans,” Wall Street Journal, 8 September

Similarly, Washington Post reporter and editor Joel Garreau wrote:

“The city of New Orleans is not going to be rebuilt.
“The tourist neighborhoods? The ancient parts from the French Quarter to the Garden District on that slim crescent of relatively high ground near the river? Yes, they will be restored. The airport and the convention center? Yes, those, too. “But the far larger swath – the real New Orleans where the tourists don’t go, the part that Katrina turned into a toxic soup bowl, its population of 400,000 scattered to the waves? Not so much....
“There are a lot of black and poor people who are not going to return to New Orleans any more than Okies did to the Dust Bowl.”
Washington Post, 11 September

Meanwhile, Bush cronies in companies like Halliburton, Bechtel and Fluor Corporation are cashing in, with huge no-bid contracts ranging from $100 million to $500 million. On FEMA’s recommendation, some of the donated aid money has been flowing into the coffers of “Operation Blessing,” run by Pat Robertson, the ultra-right-wing religious fanatic who recently called for the U.S. to assassinate Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. Robertson, it may be remembered, together with fellow zealot Jerry Falwell hailed the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center as god’s punishment on New York gays and abortion-rights supporters. Robertson is notorious for looting his “charities,” having spent $500,000 in donations on a jet he used to visit his African diamond mines, and channeling half of all donations to his Christian Broadcasting Company. And the rightist Heritage Foundation is helping (for a hefty fee) develop the government’s recovery plan, calling for waiving environmental rules, eliminating capital gains taxes and permitting private ownership of public school buildings.

“Crony capitalism,” it turns out, doesn’t just sprout in semi-colonial countries like Indonesia. The Bush gang are not only bloody-minded imperialist warmongers, depraved mass murderers, front men for a sinister military-industrial complex, hypocritical Christian bigots and scions of a capitalist robber baron who helped finance Hitler (Prescott Bush), they and their ilk are also deeply corrupt. The idea that conservatives are for “small government” is a myth to keep the small-town Chamber of Commerce businessmen of Main Street politically tied to the financiers of Wall Street who bleed them dry. All these corporations live off the public trough, and their political representatives loot the “public” till with abandon. Just drive around northern Virginia some time to see all the estates and McMansions built by right-wing “consultants” with the proceeds of their lucrative “cost-plus” government contracts.

The corruption, lies and cronyism are what most of the liberals and reformist left focus on in their comments on the New Orleans catastrophe. More far-out types focus on conspiracy theories (maybe Bush ordered the planes to hit the World Trade Center, was there a plane at all at the Pentagon, what about W’s bin Laden connection, etc.). What they have in common is that they seek to discredit the Bush regime within the political framework of bourgeois politics. Most fundamental, however, is the fact that, from Iraq to Louisiana, the government acts as the “executive committee” of the entire capitalist class. Democrats and Republicans may have disputes over which one is too “soft” in going after the current nemesis (Iraq’s Saddam Hussein yesterday, North Korea’s Kim Jong Il tomorrow), over whether tax cuts are “reckless” or the Iraq invasion “ill-prepared.” But they all seek to further the interests of U.S. imperialism, which is the greatest threat to working people around the globe and the future of humanity.

Police, army at Grand Central Station, Apriol 2004Troops patrol Grand Central Station in New York, April 2004. New Orleans lockdown is dress rehearsal for police state measures in the U.S. Imperialist war abroad means racist repression “at home”! (Photo: New York Times)

While various reformist pseudo-socialists call on the government to “do more” for the hurricane victims, calling for “money for relief, not for war,” revolutionaries respond that this is not a matter of “priorities” but of class interests. Communists do not call to “bring the troops home” to send them to New Orleans, but to drive the U.S. out of Iraq and defeat the imperialist occupation. Indeed, the example of Hurricane Katrina, where troops were “brought home” and then used to impose martial law on black New Orleans, is a perfect example of what is wrong with reformist “troops out” slogans which appeal to imperialist liberals who want to cut their losses in Iraq in order to focus on other “priorities” such as “disaster relief.” In the 1960s, liberals and reformists called to “bring the troops home” and “send them to Selma,” supposedly to defend civil rights protesters. But in reality, U.S. troops were sent into Little Rock, Arkansas and Birmingham, Alabama not to defend blacks but to put down incipient black rebellions against racist terror!

Authentic communists seek to mobilize the mass of the exploited and oppressed against their exploiters and oppressors, fighting for a class opposition to the rulers who are laying waste to Iraq and are responsible for the devastation visited on New Orleans. We have called for the tens of thousands of black poor and working-class families who have been deprived of their homes and livelihood to march on Washington on a class-struggle program. There must be a fight to rebuild New Orleans in the interests of those who with their toil make the city run. The ruling class wants to to line the pockets of racist Uptown magnates, the California and Texas megacorporations who live off juicy government contracts, the Arkansas retailers who milk profits from slave labor, and the New York banks who will make billions in interests on the loans that will be floated to pay for the reconstruction bonanza. We demand a massive program of public works, hiring the jobless at full union-scale wages and under workers control, to provide social services and decent housing, free of cost, for every single family driven from New Orleans.

Demands must be raised as well to cancel the debts of all flood victims. Otherwise they will not only be left without homes and jobs but will also be thrown into permanent penury by the relentless grinding of the capitalist market. As city rulers use the absence of hospital facilities as an excuse to prevent New Orleans residents from returning, there should be a mobilization to provide free quality medical care to all. Accept the offers of aid from Cuba and Venezuela! Let in the hospital units that FEMA kept out! Expropriate the private hospital corporations! While Bush & Co. use the Katrina disaster to push vouchers and private schools, there must be a fight for high quality public education under teacher-parent-student control. The entire workers movement along with civil rights organizations and all defenders of black rights and democratic rights should mobilize for the right of return for the entire displaced population of New Orleans. This will be a potentially explosive confrontation that comes directly up against the U.S. imperialist drive toward a police state.

After the last hurricane thousands of Mexican and Central American workers provided the back-breaking labor to rebuild. While untold numbers of “undocumented” immigrants have had to flee from New Orleans, staying away from shelters for fear of deportation, defenders of labor, minority and immigrant rights must demand full citizenship rights for all immigrants. To defend the victims of the Katrina disaster from being victimized again in the reconstruction, councils of working people and residents of poor neighborhoods should be formed. Blacks and working people across the country have the power to repulse the onslaught against the hard-hit population of New Orleans. This racist attack, like the war on Iraq, has been unleashed by both capitalist parties. To defeat it, it is necessary to break with all the bourgeois politicians and fight to build a revolutionary workers party.

To avenge the deaths of the brothers and sisters, the mothers and fathers that the ruling class left to die, to achieve genuine social equality and a decent life for blacks and all working people, we will have to get rid of this whole rotten system. Capitalism is racist to its core, and the struggle against racism must therefore be a struggle against capitalism. Organizing each group of the oppressed on a narrow sectoral basis only aids the class enemy, the rulers who seek to keep us divided. Only a revolutionary, internationalist workers party can organize and lead the oppressed to victory by sweeping away the capitalists and establishing a socialist society based on the principle of production for use and not for profit. The Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International calls upon all the oppressed to join in the struggle. Remember New Orleans! Black liberation through socialist revolution! n

To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: internationalistgroup@msn.com