April 2006   
Los Angeles immigrants rights march, 25 March 2006
Up to 1 million marched for immigrants’ rights in Los Angeles March 25.  (Photo: Los Angeles Times)

Defeat U.S. Imperialist War on Iraq!
Build a Revolutionary Workers Party!

We reprint below an Internationalist Group leaflet distributed along with an 8-page tabloid special issue of The Internationalist at an April 10 immigrants’ rights march in New York.

The United States is bogged down in a losing war and colonial occupation of Iraq. Meanwhile, immigrants in the U.S. are facing mounting racist attack. These two facts are intimately connected. From the beginning of the 20th century and the U.S. conquest of the Philippines, Cuba and Puerto Rico, through World Wars I and II, the Vietnam War and up to today, imperialist war has always been accompanied by virulent immigrant-bashing. The bottom line is: to defeat the racist onslaught, you have to defeat the war and bring down the capitalist system that produces both.

The Internationalist Group, U.S. section of the League for the Fourth International, fights for full citizenship rights for all immigrants, documented or undocumented, and for the defeat of U.S. imperialism in its “war on terror” which in reality is an attempt to terrorize the world into submission to its dictates. We warn against placing confidence in any capitalist parties or politicians, defenders of a system that was founded on slavery and remains racist to the core. We seek to build a workers party to lead the struggle for international socialist revolution.

For the past four months, immigrant communities across the U.S. have grown increasingly alarmed over the prospect of immigration “reform” that could mean losing their jobs, imprisonment and deportation. The passage last December of the vicious H.R. 4437 bill introduced by Representatives James Sensenbrenner and Peter King – that would make all undocumented immigrants felons, make church workers who aid them criminals, and build a 700-mile wall along the Mexican border – has galvanized a population that was politically invisible. All immigrants are affected.

In recent weeks there has been a wave of massive protests in defense of immigrant rights: over 50,000 in Washington on March 7, up to 300,000 in Chicago three days later, and anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million in Los Angeles March 25. Now nationwide demonstrations have been called for April 9-10 that are expected to bring out several million participants. Never before in the history of the United States has there been such a huge political mobilization of immigrants. But what will be the outcome? What program should immigrants fighting for their rights defend?

The massive show of immigrant strength took the capitalist politicians by surprise. The maneuvering over immigration reform legislation was thrown into turmoil. Supporters of a bipartisan bill sponsored by Senators Ted Kennedy and John McCain felt they were on a roll. Republican Senate leaders scrambled to cobble together a “compromise” bill. The Spanish-language New York paper El Diario-La Prensa (20 March) headlined, “Triunfamos” (We Won). But faced with resistance from the racist hard-liners, suddenly the deal-making collapsed. Politicians fled the capital. Insiders declared immigration reform dead for this Congress.

Mainstream immigrant rights groups such as the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF), the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the National Council of La Raza and a host of local coalitions all call for “amnesty.” They are also all tied, one way or another, to the Democratic Party, one of the partner parties of U.S. capitalism. Most support the Kennedy-McCain bill, as do many unions. But we warn that amnesty is no solution, and the Kennedy-McCain immigration “reform” is a trap that will make things worse for immigrants.

Internationalist Group contingent, NYC Iraq antiwar demo, 18 March 2006Internationalist Group banner calling for full citizenship rights for all immigrants and to build a revolutionary workers party, at demonstration against Iraq war, New York City, March 18.
Internationalist photo

Why is that? In the first place, all the different immigration bills floating around the halls of Congress include the provisions for drastically increasing U.S. military action along the Mexican border, which is already the most militarized international boundary in the world. The compromise Senate bill supported by Kennedy and McCain calls for doubling the size of the U.S. Border Patrol and creating a “virtual wall” of sensors, cameras, vehicles and aircraft to monitor the U.S.-Mexico border. This will mean many more immigrant deaths.

Secondly, the Kennedy-McCain bill includes provisions for a “guest worker” program that would supply U.S. employers with several hundred thousand disposable workers, who would have no rights and would be sent back after six years (or if they lose their jobs). Contrary to the delusions of President Bush and others, not even a tiny fraction of immigrant workers already in the U.S. would sign up for such a program. More fundamentally, this is a form of indentured servitude, supposedly outlawed under the U.S. Constitution. In fact, “guest workers” would be worse off than the original indentured servants, who could stay in America. This will mean many more deportations.

Thirdly, the Kennedy-McCain bill calls for a crackdown on employers’ hiring of “illegal aliens.” In recent years, employer sanctions have seldom been enforced as the real policy on checking documents has become “don’t ask, don’t tell.” In 2004 there was a grand total of three actions against employers for employing undocumented workers. The capitalists know that they desperately need immigrant labor to keep up their profits. But the “bipartisan” immigration reform seeks to regain control of the labor supply. This will mean many more factory raids.

All defenders of immigrant workers’ rights should oppose such slave-labor programs. Yet the bourgeois immigration coalitions support such programs as part of a deal to get “amnesty.”

So why don’t Marxists call for amnesty? Of course, even limited legalization can be a gain for immigrants who presently have no legal rights at all. But “amnesty” is no answer for immigrants on several counts. To begin with, it is asking forgiveness for committing a “crime.” Many in recent protests have held up signs and banners saying “immigrants are not criminals.” But their leaders, along with bourgeois liberals and reformist pseudo-socialists, tell undocumented workers they must beg for a pardon. Revolutionaries, in contrast, say all workers should fight for their rights.

Ever since The Communist Manifesto written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels a century and a half ago, Marxists have held that “the workers have no fatherland.” But amnesty accepts the “right” of the capitalist rulers to police their borders. It does nothing to fight the massive militarization and police repression aimed at persecuting immigrants, whether on the Mexican border or in New York City. Moreover, any amnesty will grant limited rights to certain workers, those who arrived before a certain date, while going after the next wave of “illegal” migrants and those who don’t “qualify” under the bourgeoisie’s laws.

In fact, the present situation, with over 12 million people living in the U.S. without any legal rights, is the direct result of the 1986 amnesty. When he signed it into law, Ronald Reagan said that this measure would let the U.S. “humanely regain control of our borders” by tightening controls on those entering the country, while imposing civil and criminal penalties against employers who hired undocumented workers. (This “humane” act was passed while Reagan was whipping up hysteria about a “red tide” of refugees from Central America crossing the Rio Grande River.) A new amnesty will just reproduce this situation a few years down the road.

The program of the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International is straightforward. We don’t beg the rulers for amnesty, we fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants, now, period. Otherwise the bosses will use the lack of legal rights to victimize undocumented workers and set one part of the working class against another. Anyone who lives here should have the same rights as everyone else. That’s what serious defenders of immigrant rights should be fighting for.

But in the imperialist epoch, the fight for basic democratic rights requires hard class struggle. The bourgeoisie is waging a war not only against Iraq and Afghanistan but also against working people, minorities, immigrants and the poor in the U.S. The rulers are systematically curtailing civil liberties while they drive down wages, slash social programs, shove the cost of health care onto workers and gut their pensions. Immigrants are often the first target of this capitalist onslaught, such as in the U.S.A. PATRIOT Act and the “Real ID” Act last year, the first step toward imposing a national identification card.

Imperialist war and anti-immigrant repression go together. Above: Over 1,000 striking miners in Bisbee,
Arizona, led by the revolutionary syndicalist IWW, were rounded up in July 1917, loaded into box
cars and stranded in the New Mexico desert. Hundreds were later deported.* An extensiveexhibit
on the Bisbee deportation is available at http://www.library.arizona.edu/exhibits/bisbee/
Photo: Arizona Historical Society Library

The same thing has happened during and after every imperialist war over the last century. In World War I, the liberal Democrat Woodrow Wilson jailed socialist opponents of the war and ordered the arrest and deportation of militant immigrant workers. Striking miners of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) in Arizona, most of them Mexican, were rounded up at gunpoint and shipped into the desert in box cars to starve and die of thirst (see “‘Reds’ and Immigrants: The Bisbee, Arizona Deportation of 1917,” The Internationalist No. 2, April-May 1997. After the war, the bourgeoisie launched a “red scare,” deporting thousands of foreign-born communists. The Italian anarchist workers Sacco and Vanzetti were executed.

In World War II, the government jailed 18 Trotskyists, led by James P. Cannon, and leaders of the Minneapolis Teamsters for their revolutionary opposition to the imperialist war. At the same time they put tens of thousands of Americans of Japanese ancestry into concentration camps. After the 11 September 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as the U.S. government launched a war on Afghanistan and Iraq, thousands of immigrants from the Near East and South Asia were locked up and held incommunicado. The City University of New York moved to drive out thousands of undocumented students by more than doubling their tuition, justifying this as a war measure.

Now U.S. rulers are preparing to launch anti-immigrant repression on a massive scale. The New York Times (3 February) reported that the Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $385 million contract to the Kellogg Brown & Root subsidiary of Halliburton Corporation for the construction of a string of “temporary immigration detention centers,” each holding up to 5,000 people. KBR would build these concentration camps for the Department of Homeland Security, to hold “an unexpected influx of immigrants,” people fleeing from a natural disaster (another New Orleans), or “for new programs that require additional detention space.”

And what might those programs be? This is part of a Homeland Security program codenamed “ENDGAME” which is described by the DHS as “a mission first articulated in the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798” (which the Supreme Court has never ruled on, although past Court opinions presumed them to be unconstitutional). Its goal is the capability to “remove all removable aliens,” including “illegal economic migrants, aliens who have committed criminal acts, asylum-seekers” and “potential terrorists.” Last year, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the DHS included the pursuit of a “fugitive population of 400,000 illegal aliens ordered removed” in its budget plans for Fiscal Year 2005.

Concentration camps in the U.S.? Cover of DHS “Endgame” program for mass round-ups of “illegal aliens.” Halliburton got contract to build the camps.

This is what U.S. rulers have actually been planning – mass “removal,” not mass legalization of undocumented workers. In fact, no major bourgeois politician has come out for amnesty. While liberal Democrats like Kennedy and Hillary Clinton say they are for providing an “opportunity to eventually earn citizenship,” this would be after paying thousands of dollars in fines, thousands more in back taxes, and waiting up to 11 years. The mammoth immigrant demonstrations of the last month may have thrown a hitch into the plans for rounding up “illegal aliens.” But as long as the protests are politically subordinated by immigrant community leaders to the Democratic Party, they do not pose a threat to ruling-class anti-immigrant plans. 

There is an acute need for revolutionary leadership in the struggle for immigrant rights. It is necessary to explain that the struggle against plans to criminalize, jail and deport immigrants must be linked to a fight to defeat the U.S. imperialist war in the Near East and the capitalist war on working people, minorities and the poor in the United States. This requires mobilizing the power of the American working class, including the millions of immigrant workers who form a strategic sector. In many cases, coming from countries with a history of sharp labor and peasant battles, immigrants are among the most combative trade-unionists. But their potential militancy cannot be mobilized without a leadership committed to waging the class struggle to victory.

But rather than providing a class program for immigrants’ rights, the bulk of the left in the United States is treating the recent demonstrations as the rise of another “new movement” to be tailed after. Reformist groups like the International Socialist Organization (ISO), the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), Workers World Party (WWP) and the Communist Party U.S.A. (CPUSA) call for “amnesty” just like the bourgeois liberals and pro-capitalist union bureaucrats. Others who adopt a more left-wing posture, like Socialist Action (SA), the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) and even the left-centrist Spartacist League (SL), don’t criticize calls for amnesty.

Most of the left has reported more or less uncritically on the recent immigrant marches, hardly mentioning the widespread waving of the American flag, for example. This was not  a spontaneous thing but was on instructions from protest organizers, who in Washington told demonstrators to leave Latin American flags at home in order not to set off anti-immigrant yahoos. In Los Angeles, the Catholic church told demonstrators to wear white and carry U.S. flags. Certainly L.A. Cardinal Roger Mahoney’s statement that if federal law bars aiding undocumented workers, he would instruct priests to disobey the law was a signal event. But the Catholic prelate’s purpose was to keep angry protesters within the bounds of bourgeois politics.

A telling example of the opportunist left’s capitulation to the bourgeois politics of the demonstration organizers is over the question of imperialist war. Every left group participates in antiwar demos, but in their articles on the immigrant protests the ISO, SWP, WWP, SA, PSL and SL don’t even mention the word Iraq. This is not an accidental omission, given the flag-waving of the protest organizers. With their super-patriotic stance, the last thing the bourgeois immigrant leaders want is to be linked to opposition to U.S. war. Moreover, as we have pointed out, the “antiwar” policy of the left opportunists, all of whom push some variant of “troops out” or “bring the troops home,” is designed to cozy up to growing bourgeois defeatist sentiment.

In contrast, the Internationalist Group has called forthrightly for the defeat of U.S. imperialism in Iraq and Afghanistan, to drive U.S. troops out rather than calling on the Pentagon to withdraw them (so that they can fight against Iran or North Korea). We have agitated for workers action to “hot cargo” war material to Iraq, and called for workers strikes against the war – as well as calling for workers mobilization to smash the fascist “Minutemen” anti-immigrant vigilantes. And because we have put the Iraq war front and center in our signs and leaflets, pro-Democratic Party leaders of immigration coalitions in New York have repeatedly excluded or attempted to exclude the IG from demonstrations.

It is worth noting the sharp rightward shift of the Spartacist League/International Communist League over the immigration issue. In the aftermath of 9/11, the SL/ICL outrageously accused the IG of  “Playing the Counterfeit Card of Anti-Americanism” and of playing to “‘Third World’ nationalists for whom the ‘only good American is a dead American’” because we called for defeat of U.S. imperialism in the Afghanistan war. Now the SL doesn’t even mention Iraq or Afghanistan in a joint statement with its Mexican affiliate on the immigration issue, with no more than a vague reference to an “obligation to oppose the wars and depredations of the U.S. capitalist class.” Nor does their statement mention the flag-waving, or have a word of criticism of the Catholic church, thus making their ritual mentions of socialist revolution empty rhetoric.

Contrary to the thundering silence of the opportunist left, the Iraq war is central to the current attacks on immigrants. Every imperialist war has to have an “enemy within” (in WWII, it was Jews and Communists in Nazi Germany, Japanese Americans in the U.S.), and in this case xenophobic war hawks have focused on “illegal immigrants.” Immigrants are being used as scapegoats as the U.S. sinks ever deeper into the quicksands of the Near East. “First they came for the immigrants” as the U.S. cracked down on democratic rights after 9/11. Then they extended warrantless phone-tapping and surveillance to antiwar activists and others. You can’t fight the attacks on immigrants without fighting to defeat the war that generates them.

This means fighting capitalist exploitation and racism, which in the United States always focuses on the oppressed black population. The victimization of more than 100,000 overwhelmingly black and poor people, left to die amid the floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, is a dramatic picture of what lies in store for immigrants. Now the bourgeoisie is refusing to rebuild poor black neighborhoods of New Orleans or to let their residents return to the city. This is “ethnic cleansing” on a mammoth scale. Moreover, contractors are bringing in undocumented workers from Mexico at sub-minimum wages while refusing to hire black New Orleans residents in reconstruction work. This naturally causes resentment among many blacks, as it is intended to.

Revolutionaries must strenuously oppose all expressions of nativist chauvinism against immigrants. We explain that the way to deal with such attempts by the ruling class to set one sector of the oppressed against another is to wage a campaign to raise conditions for all the exploited. The Internationalist Group has actively participated in campaigns to unionize immigrant workers in the New York area, and from our origins we have had an orientation to developing revolutionary cadres from this potentially militant sector. And the first thing that immigrant workers must know about the U.S. is that the black question is key to everything. In this country built on the heritage of chattel slavery, Latino and Asian immigrants as well as white workers and revolutionaries must vigorously fight every manifestation of anti-black racism.

Above all, it is vital to fight for revolution to sweep away the whole imperialist system. Racists and quite a few trade-union bureaucrats accuse immigrants of “stealing American jobs.” It must be explained that workers are driven to emigrate to the U.S. by the effects of imperialism on their countries. Social services are closed down and state-owned industries sold off to pay debts to the imperialist banks that were foisted on them at a time when Wall Street was awash in petro-dollars it didn’t know what to do with. Now with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), millions of Mexican peasants have been driven off their land, unable to compete with cheap corn from Iowa being imported by the trainload. Some of those workers have ended up immigrating to Iowa and working in packing houses there.

Moreover, immigrant workers contribute enormously to the U.S. economy, up to tens of billions of dollars every year. Most pay Social Security taxes, from which they will never receive a dime so long as they are undocumented, and many pay income taxes. Economists have calculated that over time this subsidy by low-paid immigrant workers amounts to several trillion dollars. The fact is that undocumented immigrants, overwhelmingly workers, are vital to the U.S. economy. They are already 7 percent of all transportation workers, 9 percent of manufacturing, 14 percent of construction, 17 percent of maintenance and 24 percent of agricultural workers (New York Times, 2 April). Moreover, there is no way that the U.S. can jail or deport 12 million – they don’t have enough jails, and it would cause an economic crisis.

Immigrants are now a key section of the U.S. workforce, as they were in the early years of the 20th century. In New York City, over 40 percent of the population is foreign-born and in Southern California, Latino immigrants are by far the largest population group. Demonstrators have chanted, “¡Aquí estamos, y no nos vamos!” (We’re here and we’re not leaving), and they’re right. American chauvinists who don’t like it better get used to it. But while the ruling class has internal divisions over immigration, all sectors of the capitalists want to keep the mass of immigrant workers confined to a low-wage existence. They want hamburger flippers, bathroom cleaners and maids, but as this vibrant work force becomes rooted in the U.S. the rulers will be confronted with a powerful working class.

The recent protests have dramatically shown immigrants’ numerical strength. Walkouts by Los Angeles-area students in the week leading up to the million-strong march there demonstrated the militancy of young Latinos, often locked in by school authorities and sometimes beaten by police. Tragically, there has already been one casualty of this repression as eighth-grader Anthony Soltero took his life after being threatened with three years of jail by the assistant principal. We must fight to avenge his death and those of the hundreds of immigrants who have died crossing deserts and frozen mountains, or been the victims of anti-immigrant racists. This requires a struggle for international socialist revolution.

In the U.S. it is necessary to wage a political battle against all the anti-immigrant parties of American capitalism. This means combating dangerous illusions in the Democratic Party. The welfare-slashing Democratic administration of Bill Clinton pushed through the 1996 “Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act” that was used to round up and deport thousands of immigrants after 9/11. The huge increase in deaths along the border is a direct result of Clinton’s Operation Gatekeeper, which forced migrants into desert terrain where more than 1,200 have died in the last decade. Congressional Democrats overwhelmingly supported the U.S.A. PATRIOT Act and voted for  the “Real ID” Act last year that marks a huge step toward a national identification card.

Not only the Democrats but minor bourgeois politicians and parties have joined in the attacks on immigrants. Populist Ralph Nader, who ran for president as the Green Party candidate in 2000 and as an independent in 2004, has been particularly virulent in attacking “illegal” immigrants. In an interview with the fascistic right-winger Pat Buchanan in the American Conservative (21 June 2004), Nader declared: “We have to control our immigration. We have to limit the number of people who come into this country illegally.” And this immigrant basher is the candidate touted by the social democrats of the Internationalist Socialist Organization and Socialist Alternative as a “progressive” alternative to the Democrats!

In Mexico, our comrades of the Grupo Internacionalista not only oppose the government of Bush’s rancher pal, President Vicente Fox Quesada, of the right-wing PAN (National Action Party), but also fight against illusions in the bourgeois nationalist PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution) led by Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The Fox government sends its army to cooperate with the U.S. Border Patrol and military while arresting hundreds of thousands of Central Americans heading north. The GI fights to break the unions from their “popular front” alliance with the PRD, which does not oppose NAFTA, at most calling to “renegotiate” (as does Fox himself) parts of this “free trade” agreement that has impoverished millions of Mexicans.

The Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International look to the heritage of the Russian October Revolution of 1917, which first established workers rule and, true to the internationalist politics of V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky, decreed that foreign workers in Russian territory had the same rights as all others. The French Revolution of 1789 similarly made Thomas Paine a citizen of France. We fight for the working class, blacks, immigrants and all the oppressed to break from the Democrats and forge the nucleus of a revolutionary workers party that fights for socialist revolution throughout the Americas and worldwide. n

*See “‘Reds’ and Immigrants: The Bisbee, Arizona Deportation of 1917,” The Internationalist No. 2, April-May 1997.

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