Iran Revolutionary Guard Chief Assassinated; U.S. Soldiers Deployed; Retaliation Expected
THE ASSASSINATION OF General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, the elite overseas unit of the IRGC, has brought tensions in the volatile region to a breaking point.
The January 3 execution took place shortly after Soleimani arrived at Baghdad International Airport from Lebanon and met with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, second in command of the Popular Mobilization Forces, a coalition of Shi’a-based militias attached to the Iraqi Armed Forces. The two men, along with a small entourage, left together. On their way to their destination, they were killed by four Hellfire missiles fired from two separate Reaper drones.
The assassination, a clear act of war, was allegedly in response to the December 31 partial occupation of the U.S. embassy complex by Iraqi Shi’as, including elements of the PMF. That, in turn, was in response to U.S. airstrikes against the Kata’ib Hizb’allah militia, a part of the PMF, in Iraq and Syria.
Speaking from his Mar-a-Lago resort retreat in Palm Beach, Fla., President Donald Trump insisted that the assassination of Soleimani was somehow an act of insuring peace. “We took action last night to stop a war,” Trump told his sycophantic audience. “We did not take action to start a war.” He continued by painting Soleimani as “the number one terrorist anywhere in the world” who was “plotting imminent and sinister attacks.” In fact, far from stopping a conflict from breaking out, Trump’s successful assassination plot has accelerated the push toward another war — possibly the prelude to a world war.
In response to the murder of Soleimani, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei vowed “harsh revenge” against the U.S., while the Tehran government called the assassination “state terrorism” in a letter to the United Nations. One of Germany’s newspapers of record, Die Zeit, compared the killing of Soleimani to that of Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, which was the spark that set off the First World War. The governments of Russia and China, along with other states, called the act a willful violation of international law.
As we go to press, it is clear that some kind of retaliation by Iran is imminent. It is likely to be a direct military action by Tehran against U.S. interests inside Iraq, either inside Baghdad’s “Green Zone” or against one of the many military bases that house U.S. soldiers. What form it takes remains to be seen.
However, regardless of what comes next, it will only be the opening salvo in a drawn-out conflict that points toward an all-out war between rival imperialist cartels. Even if the coming retaliation by Iran is the last shot fired for some time, that period can only be seen as the calm before the next tempestuous outrage.
The showdown between rival cartels has been building for some time — indeed, since the end of the Cold War. Washington’s push for control of the Middle East oil spigot, beginning with the 1991 Gulf War, was part of an overall strategy to maintain U.S. dominance through military power while its economic position was eroding. By controlling the flow of oil to Europe, Japan and China, backed by a Navy and Air Force that can reach around the globe, Wall Street saw a chance to bend these countries’ productive powers to its will.
The overthrow of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in 2003 opened the door for Iran to rise and begin reasserting itself as a regional power. It has strengthened its ties throughout the “Shi’a Crescent,” which stretches from far-western Afghanistan to the Mediterranean, as well as with the Yemeni Houthis and Islamist groups like Hamas, while improving its alliances with Moscow and Beijing.
Tehran has emerged as a strong pole of opposition to both the U.S.-backed coalition led by Sa’udi Arabia, and to Washington’s long-standing ally, Israel. However, both Iran and its Shi’a-majority neighbor, Iraq, have been gripped recently by popular protests, as well as by occasional strikes and workers’ actions, over low wages, eroding living conditions and worsening corruption. Protests in both countries were brutally crushed. In Iraq, this bloody repression was carried out by Iranian-aligned Shi’a militias; Soleimani was its architect.
As a result, Trump’s assassination of Soleimani needs to be seen in the larger context of inter-imperialist maneuvering. The attack was a signal not only to Iran but also to Russia and China that the U.S., in spite of all its talk of achieving “energy independence,” intends to continue having a dominant presence in the region. In reality, the U.S. still depends on Middle East oil, for stability in world prices, for emergency production and for keeping its Gulf Coast refineries operating. Therefore, it will not concede one inch to regional or world rivals.
The central importance of those three factors in keeping Wall Street from entering into an economic tailspin, as well as the aforementioned control of oil flow to their rivals, makes the threat of full-scale war, including a third world war, very high.
Workers — in the U.S., in Iran, anywhere — have no side in the wars of this decadent imperialist epoch. Through world capitalist production and its market, states are grouped into cartels under the dominance of one or more great powers. Even the smallest, weakest country stands somewhere on the imperialist ladder, under the protection of a master.
Even those reactionary states that posture as “anti-imperialist” or even “anti-capitalist” hold a place in the cartel system, with their rhetoric only serving to thinly mask their own appetites — propaganda for the hungry fool.
However, while we have no side, we do not stand neutral or indifferent to war. Communists fight for workers to resist the ruling classes’ drive for war through its own actions and self-organization aimed to bring about the defeat of “our own” exploiting classes through transforming imperialist war into class war.
Concretely, this means advocating and fighting for strikes, occupations and secondary boycotts (“hot cargoing”) to prevent the movement of troops and materials, as well as mass strikes and actions to shut down production and paralyze the exploiters’ ability to make war, not just in the U.S., but internationally, in all the belligerent and profiteering states.
A coordinated internationalist strategy, based on a communist program, that can draw together the nucleus of a proletarian communist international. This how the working class can begin to put an end the threat of war.
Outcome of French Workers’ Struggle against So-Called ‘Pension Reform’ a Critical Moment in World Class Struggle
AFTER A MONTH of mass strikes, mass protests and pitched battles with the cops in the streets, French workers are at a crossroads. Whatever happens next in this struggle will have long-lasting effects, not only for the working class of France, but for workers around the world.
The current series of battles began on December 5 with strikes and mass protests against efforts by the government to “reform” the pension system and reduce the living standards of all workers. The “reform” would raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 and would switch the calculation of pensions to a “points” system that would see retirement payouts fall on average between 20 and 30 percent — not only for future retirees, but also for current ones.
Working women and those with unstable employment will be hardest hit, as the new scheme does not account for the effects of short-term layoffs, job staggering, family care and wage inequality.
More than 1.5 million workers marched and went on strike throughout France on this “day of action” called by the unions. Rail traffic and mass transit came to a virtual halt as workers joined the protests. Seven of the country’s eight oil refineries were shut down. More than one-third of government workers and half of all teachers joined the marches and went on strike. Strikes by airport workers, especially air traffic controllers, closed most of the country’s largest airports. Truck drivers set up 15 blockades on the major highways.
Five days later, another 880,000 participated in marches across the country, including students and hospital workers, as well as a large contingent of “Yellow Vests.” Meanwhile, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe stated that he would push through the pension reforms despite opposition.
Shortly after the protests on Dec. 10 and Phillipe’s statement, the unions called a second “day of action” for a week later. In the days preceding this next mass protest, more strikes were called. The main ports of Marseilles and Le Havre closed, as did the eighth oil refinery. Electrical power workers also downed tools, causing rolling blackouts.
Nearly 2 million workers went on strike and marched during the Dec. 17 “day of action,” with increased participation by transport and educational workers. Only the day before, the minister in charge of implementing Macron’s “pension reform” was forced to resign after it was revealed he was receiving money from private pension insurance corporations in exchange for his services.
Since that time, strikes among rail and mass transit workers continue, as do local and regional protests, as Macron and Phillipe continue to move ahead with implementing their “pension reform.”
When he came to power in the summer of 2017, Macron vowed to continue the work of his predecessors, conservative Jacques Chirac and social democrat François Hollande, by continuing to dismantle the labor laws established after the Second World War and crushing the ability of workers to organize and fight against the exploiting classes.
Through a succession of presidential decrees (Ordonnances) imposed in the name of “EU directives” — directives usually drafted by France and Germany — Macron has changed key sections of the labor law to meet the demands of French capital, backing it up with brutal police repression. Indeed, the wave of violence against workers in France is the worst since the Vichy regime during the 1940-1944 Nazi occupation of the country, including the authorization to use live ammunition against the “Yellow Vest” protesters last March.
During the last month of workers’ actions, the violence has only intensified, with recently-retired Army Chief of Staff (and likely future presidential candidate) General Pierre de Villiers declaring on RTL radio: “A gulf has emerged between those who lead and those who obey. This gulf is profound. The ‘yellow vests’ were already a first sign of this…. We must restore order; things cannot continue this way.” The message is clear: The exploiters and their state will, if necessary, drown the French working class in blood in order to defeat them!
Into the middle of this rising workers’ militancy being met with increasing police repression has stepped the unions, with one single mission … to negotiate the workers’ surrender to Macron!
From the beginning, the unions in France have done nearly everything in their power to limit, isolate and sabotage the strikes. Even before the December actions began, the unions attempted to negotiate a “grandfather clause” in Macron’s “reform,” creating a permanent two-tier retirement system and sacrificing younger workers. When workers started staging wildcat strikes and protests against “pension reform,” the unions stepped in to stop them. In fact, the unions themselves are divided, with two of the federations, the corporatist CFDT and UNSA, not opposing Macron’s plans.
Throughout December, the union leaders made regular pilgrimage to the prime minister’s residence to plead for a crumb from the master’s table, only to find none offered. Thus, while the “left” unions meet as the Intersyndicale to figure out the best way to fully capitulate to Macron while maintaining control of their memberships, they all present a united front against the workers, pushing off any future “days of action” — in fact, any action — to a time and place when it will no longer matter and the momentum of struggle has been lost.
The fact is that there is nothing to negotiate with Macron-Philippe, the ruling classes or their state. The central task for French workers now is to continue the strikes and protests, not as impotent “days of action,” but as daily struggle that builds self-organization and coordination, that unites the current general assemblies, along with strike assemblies and general struggle groups, into workers’ committees and assemblies of action that include workers, both public and private, takes control of the movement out of the hands of the treacherous unions, and can organize effective self-defense.
BOLIVIA HAS BECOME the latest entry on the long and repetitive list of countries targeted by the Great Power cartels of imperialism in its drive to re-divide the resources of the world to their advantage. Since the initiation of the coup d’etat on November 10, which brought down the populist regime of Evo Morales, Bolivia, the poorest country in South America, continues to balance precariously on the brink of civil war.
While the immediate pretext for the coup was a series of contrived “anomalies” related to the October 20 general elections, mostly with the unofficial “quick-count” vote tally, tensions between the Morales government and the exploiting classes had been building up to a breaking point for years.
Riding a wave of working-class and poor-peasant opposition to resource privatization and superexploitation, Morales and his MAS (Movement Toward Socialism) party came to power in early 2006. Almost immediately, they set to work terminating some of the most egregious of the deals with international mining firms; while ultimately paying out nearly $2 billion in settlements, the actions nearly tripled the size of Bolivia’s economy, which allowed Morales to fund social welfare programs and improve the social position of large sections of the indigenous petty bourgeoisie.
As Marx so aptly pointed out almost 170 years ago, such “reforms” put in place by petty-bourgeois democrats, social democrats, populists, and the like, are little more than bribes, “a more or less disguised form of alms […] to break their revolutionary strength by temporarily rendering their situation tolerable.” As for the workers themselves, “one thing, above all, is definite: they are to remain wage labourers as before.” (Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League, March 1850)
The termination of these agreements, and the transfer of a fraction of the associated wealth to social programs, drew the ire of world imperialism, primarily that of the U.S., Canada and the European Union. It should come as no surprise, then, that these Great Powers either aided or supported the coup, as well as the orgy of reactionary violence now on display in all the major cities of Bolivia.
The radical petty bourgeoisie was the motor-force driving the overthrow of Morales. Large sections of the class felt threatened by the shift away from lucrative (for them) partnerships with world capital, as well as by the inclusion of ever-larger sections of the indigenous population in the ranks of the exploiting classes. The attempt to expand the ruling classes to include those from indigenous groups — unheard of in the history of Bolivia — not only stirred up fears of proletarianization among the white/mestizo population, but also brought out racist, anti-indigenous sentiment combined with Christian theocratic bigotry.
This has set the stage for radical reactionaries, such as Luis “Macho” Camacho and his Santa Cruz Civic Committee (which have close ties to the fascist Falangist party), to act as the vanguard of reaction, leading attacks on working-class and indigenous neighborhoods, dragging people out of their houses and beating them. The military regularly flies bombers over these neighborhoods and police are using live ammunition and tear gas to break up any demonstrations that take place.
Meanwhile, the response of the Left has been that of pathetic prostration. Having been bound hand and foot to the capitalist state, the main trade unions and indigenous organizations have been able to muster little more than idle threats. They, and the so-called socialist and communist groups on the Left Wing of Capital, have acted as little more than a tag-tail for the spontaneous resistance that has arisen in indigenous areas like El Alto, just outside of the capital, La Paz. Their central political demand is for a bourgeois Constituent Assembly.
While it is certainly not unusual for imperialism to orchestrate “regime change” in states being exploited for their resources, it must be said that the overthrow of Morales represents something new. Bolivia is the subject of the first “green” coup of the 21st century. That is, the ouster of the MAS government was designed specifically to fulfill the needs of world imperialism to shift toward a more “eco-friendly” form of exploitation of the planet.
Bolivia claims the largest reserve of lithium in the world: up to 70 percent of the global supply. Lithium is to the imperialists’ “green new deals” what oil was to industrialization in the 20th century. Without it, the electrical storage and transmission technology needed for large-scale energy generation without fossil fuels is nearly impossible. The Morales government understood this and sought to have any deals to extract lithium be a co-venture with Bolivia’s domestic industry on an equal basis, as well as comply with the wishes of local (mostly indigenous) communities. While Chinese firms were willing to work with the Bolivian government to develop new ways to extract lithium and share profits, American and Canadian companies saw these as a direct impediment on the superexploitation of necessary resources in “their” hemisphere.
It is no wonder that the stock of both U.S.-based Tesla and Canada’s Pure Energy Minerals rose dramatically in the days following the coup. Both corporations stood to benefit substantially from the new regime holding power in La Paz.
For the workers in Bolivia, the path from resistance to power is twofold. First, the expanding and consolidating of the organs of resistance that have sprung up spontaneously in response to the coup. The popular assemblies of workers, peasants and poor people that arose within hours of the ouster of Morales to coordinate resistance and protests should be extended to every factory, mine, mill, shop, working-class neighborhood and city throughout the country. Together with the organization of workers’ self-defense groups, these bodies can serve as a center of workers’ organization and resistance in the wake of the failures and betrayals of the trade unions, indigenous community organizations and political parties that have been tied to the capitalist state and system. Moreover, they can demonstrate in action the central importance of organizing and maintaining the independence of the working class in the face of external class pressures, primarily coming from the MAS and their dependencies.
Second, there is an urgent need for our fellow workers in Bolivia to study carefully the lessons of the class struggle in order to begin to develop a proletarian communist program and party that can aid the working class in achieving its self-organization and self-emancipation from capitalism. Such a party, as part of a proletarian communist international, would be able to assist in preparing our class to fight in future battles with the exploiting classes, and to organize and take power in its own name.
This fight for the future must start today. The lessons of Bolivia’s “green” coup, the failures and betrayals of Morales’ MAS, the Left and the unions, and the role of workers’ self-organization, must be assimilated and fashioned into a weapon for the great class battles to come in the next period.
Greta Thunberg, Climate Change and the ‘Greening’ of Capitalism’s Desolating Nature
THE UNITED NATIONS’ annual “Climate Week,” culminating this past September 23 with a summit meeting of most of the world’s leading capitalists and their politicians, was less of a policy gathering and more of a coming-out party for the new wave of eco-capitalist rock stars, with top billing at the media circus going to 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.
Thunberg came to prominence in 2018, when she began protesting outside the Swedish parliament, calling for a student strike to stop climate change. Since then, she has become the poster child for “green” capitalism, meeting with all manner of celebrities, politicians and CEOs. Her arrival in New York City by yacht on August 28 began over three weeks of appearances, meet-and-greets, protests and speeches, culminating in a “climate strike” protest in Battery Park on Sept. 20.
However, it was her speech at the UN summit that garnered Thunberg the most attention. Proclaiming humanity to be at “the beginning of a mass extinction,” she chastised those in attendance for stealing “my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” concluding that, “if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.” In response, the politicians and capitalists sympathetically nodded and offered up such platitudes as, “my generation has failed to respond properly to the dramatic challenge of climate change” (UN Secretary-General António Guterres), and “we need such a youth to help us to change things” (French President Emmanuel Macron).
Why did the world’s exploiters fall over each other to ingratiate themselves on Thunberg? The answer is found in the vision and perspective that she and her companions in organizations like Extinction Rebellion (XR), which plays a
central role in many of the “climate strike” actions, have chosen to put forward.
It goes without saying that climate change is real and presents a serious problem for humanity to overcome — a serious problem that demands an immediate and comprehensive response. However, the perspective put forward by Thunberg and XR is hyperbolic to the point of recklessness. Put simply, humanity is not facing extinction because of climate change. Even the worst-case scenario put forward by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a rise of 8°C in global temperatures over the next century, will not cause our mass extinction. Indeed, humans have survived such a climate shift before … during the stone age, without the benefit of modern technology and modern science.
So, if humanity is not facing extinction, what is? And, moreover, why the falsification? Second question first. The need for falsifying the scientific conclusions stems from the necessity to rally young people of all classes into taking immediate action without the benefit of having thought through the implications of their acts. As for what is facing extinction, it is not humanity, but capitalism as it exists today, specifically its ability to maximize profits through the discovery and exploitation of new wellsprings of natural resources around the world. It is not humanity that they worry will be extinguished in a century, but the social positions and living standards of the exploiting classes who are at the core of the movement.
To put it another way, Thunberg says she wants us to “act as if your house is on fire.” But her solution is to make an alliance with the arsonists so they can have another 100 years to keep doing what they do best: making the world burn!
All of the grandiose speeches, millenary apocalypticism, neo-puritan moralism, performative martyrdom, puerile “militant” theatrics, and so on, does not hide the fact that they are promoting unity with the people who own and control the system of exploitation that has trashed the planet — albeit with a fresh coat of “green” accents, meant to make it palatable until the next century. Such a program can only be seen as conscious deception. It is shameless and despicable.
Unlike these “green” grifters, communists understand that the climate crisis is inseparable from capitalism, and its mode and methods of production. Over 150 years ago, Marx explained how the cultivation of land, natural resources, agriculture, as well as the production of commodities, etc., that is not “consciously controlled” and planned for need, not profit, “leaves deserts behind it.” (Letter to Engels, March 25, 1868) — i.e., “that climate and flora change” over time as a result of the anarchic process of production of commodities for profit.
To fight climate change, it is necessary to organize and fight for revolutionary change — for a working-class revolution based on a proletarian communist program that will dismantle the old mode of production and build a new one that is consciously controlled by our organized class, that is not only sustainable but also restores the balance in the shared metabolism of humanity and nature.
OVER THE LAST few months, we have seen a wave of mass protests sweep across multiple countries on at least four continents. Indeed, we have seen over the last 11 months protests, strikes and uprisings against the exploiting classes, its state, institutions and acts of austerity.
This wave of class struggle began last December with wildcat strikes, led by working women, at factories in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Chile, China, Hungary, India and Romania, as well as popular (cross-class) revolts in Iraq, Morocco and Tunisia. In Sudan, a three-fold rise in bread prices sparked riots and a popular uprising that ultimately ousted the long-time dictator, President Omar al-Bashir.
At the same time, a series of weekly protests against rising fuel prices was initiated by the popular movement known as the “Yellow Vests.” The protests grew increasingly sharper as 2019 began, forcing French President Emmanuel Macron to make concessions to the protesters. However, the demands of this cross-class movement had grown by that time and the protests continue to this day.
February saw wildcat strikes break out in Iran (again!) and Mexico. The previous November, Iranian workers staged a genuine mass strike in southwestern region of Khuzistan, with workers at the Haft Tapeh sugar factory going so far as to explore the organization of a shora (workers’ council) and workers’ takeover of their workplace. Workers continued their strikes and protests in early 2019, including at the steel plant in Hawaz.
In Mexico, nearly 100,000 workers in Matamoros, in the maquiladora zone on the border with the U.S. began a mass strike against both the bosses and their trade union stooges. After three weeks of struggle, which included facing down the threat of military intervention by “leftist” President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and with the help of striking teachers in Michoacán, who blockaded roads and railways, most workers were able to win their demands of a 20 percent wage raise and bonus.
For several months, events seemed to die down. However, September saw popular (cross-class) protests pick up across the Middle East and the Americas. In Egypt, thousands took to the streets in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities against corruption and growing poverty. More than 3,500 have been detained by the regime of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and thousands more injured.
Half a world away, in Haiti, ongoing protests against food and water shortages, price hikes, looting and roadblocks have turned into daily popular protests against corruption and a demand for the resignation of the president, Jovenel Moïse, have effectively shut down the capital, Port-au-Prince.
At the beginning of October, popular protests and riots broke out in Iraq and Ecuador. People took to the streets of Amara, Baghdad, Basra, Najaf and Nassiriya to protest against unemployment, lack of social services and corruption. They were met with bullets (real and rubber), water cannons and tear gas. At least dozens have been killed and thousands have been injured in the clashes.
Meanwhile, in Ecuador, the Oct. 1 announcement of an end to fuel subsidies set off a powerful wave of popular unrest and protests, led mainly by indigenous Ecuadorans, that was able to take control of the capital of Quito and force the government of President Lenín Moreno to flee the city and set up shop in the coastal town of Guayaquil.
By mid-October, popular uprisings began in Lebanon and Chile. In Lebanon, the announcement of a tax on WhatsApp messaging sparked mass protests across the country that cut across ethnic and religious lines, forcing the prime minister, Saad al-Hariri, to not only withdraw the tax but also demand that no new taxes be imposed on the poor and working class in 2020. But this has not stopped the protests, which now seek the ouster of al-Hariri’s government and a “revolution.”
At the same time, in Chile, mass popular rejection of a rise in mass transit fares announced Oct. 1 have transformed into the largest protest movement in the country since the end of the August Pinochet dictatorship. At the time of this writing, millions have joined the popular movement, including large sections of the working class. Moreover, the movement itself has begun to take on a character of a mass reckoning over the end of the dictatorship and the “transition to democracy.”
(There are, of course, other events that are continuing to unfold, including the mass protests in Spain, Hong Kong and, most recently, Guinea. These will be addressed in future articles in WPP.)
There is a line in Shakespeare’s Macbeth of a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. The events of the last year are indeed a great tale of cross-class uprising, with great sound and fury. But does it all signify nothing? Were events to continue and be left to their own devices, the unfortunate answer would be yes. On their own, as they are current constructed, with the de facto political program and leadership left in the hands of the petty bourgeoisie, either of the community leader or trade union bureaucrat type, these cross-class popular movements cannot do anything but fail.
Militancy is an expression of committed action, not a substitute for program. All the militancy that can be mustered by humanity, if used for reformist ends, can, at best, only achieve a reformist conclusion.
It is inevitable that mass social movements, even one for workers’ revolution and the overthrow of capitalism, will contain within it both backward-thinking workers and even non-workers. That is why there is a need for a conscious proletarian communist political leadership, organized into a party that is strictly proletarian in program and makeup, internationalist, and part of a world party of proletarian revolution, within such movements.
It would be the task of such a party to actively intervene, winning its best workers to the communist program, while also educating our fellow proletarians on both the important tasks of the day, as well as the dangers inherent with the presence of elements of the exploiting classes in the movement. At all times, the proletarian communist party must serve as a guardian of the historic interests of our class.
THE RECENT INFLUX of refugees and asylum seekers at the southern U.S. border has begun to overwhelm the system of immigration detention and administration, which is leading to its breakdown. The concrete result is that both adults and children are dying at the border or while in Border Patrol custody.
The December 8, 2018, death of Jakelin Caal Maquin brought the story to light. She and her father crossed the border as asylum seekers two days prior, having fled Guatemala’s political, economic and gang-related chaos. When taken into custody by Customs and Border Patrol agents, Jakelin and her father were not given a medical exam. They and over 160 others were herded into an unheated loading bay, forced to sleep on the cold concrete.
By the time the bus arrived to take them to the detention center, the father was telling agents that Jakelin was sick. By the time they arrived, she was not breathing. After being briefly revived, Jakelin was rush to a hospital in El Paso, Texas. She died about 15 hours later of acute dehydration, shock and liver failure.
Jakelin was not the first child to die in Border Patrol custody in 2018. Last May, 21-month-old Mariee Juárez died after being exposed to illnesses in a CBP detention center, being unable to get a proper medical examination and being given improper medication.
Moreover, less than three weeks after Jakelin’s death, 8-year-old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, another refugee from Guatemala, died in the late hours of Christmas Eve from an as-yet-undisclosed illness. At first, doctors in the U.S. diagnosed Felipe as having the common cold and fever. However, after he began complaining of nausea and vomiting, he was admitted to the hospital, where he succumbed to his illness.
Death along the U.S.-Mexico border is nothing new. In 2018, 281 deaths were recorded. This is down from 297 the year before and much lower than the peak of 471 in 2012. But a large reason for the reduced numbers has been the net drop in border crossings and deportations under the Barack Obama administration.
CBP officials claim that in-custody deaths are “extremely rare” — by which they mean that there were 22 such deaths in custody since the beginning of 2017, not including the three children mentioned in this article. Among those included is Roxana Hernandez, a transgender woman and refugee from Honduras who died after being in custody for less than two weeks.
The increased scrutiny of the CBP and Department of Homeland Security resulting from these deaths is, as one might expect, prompting the exploiting classes — Republican and Democrat — to call for bigger budgets, more CBP and ICE agents, and expanded detention camps for the growing numbers of families arriving as refugees and asylum seekers.
But under decaying capitalism, even refugees and asylum seekers fleeing violence and repression are seen as a weapon to be used to stoke nationalism and xenophobia as a means to maintain power and further disorganize the working class. Thus, the politicians and their media transform these people into “invaders.”
While all those seeking asylum in the U.S. should be admitted without delay or detention, and should have full citizenship rights upon admission, communists understand that it will take workers’ revolutions and workers’ control of immigration to create the open and developed society that every worker seeks out.
Exploiting Classes Use Riot Police, Tear Gas to Disperse, Terrorize Refugees
FOR MONTHS, the approach of thousands of Central American refugees (the so-called “Migrant Caravan”) has been a specter for politicians on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, with the reality of the situation lost behind grandstanding and pandering. But with the recent clash between refugees and U.S. forces at the Port of San Ysidro, the exploiting classes on both sides of the frontier are joining together to attack the refugees, a large section of whom are women and children seeking peace and the freedom to live without fear of being murdered at any moment.
The eventual skirmish that took place on November 25 began as a peaceful march of nearly 5,000 to the Mexican side of the border. Thousands of mostly women and children began assembling at the Tijuana sports stadium where the local government of Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum have chosen to warehouse the asylum seekers. They walked toward the Mexican side of the Port of San Ysidro, carrying handmade U.S. and Honduran flags, as well as repeatedly chanting, “We are not criminals! We are international workers.” Moving closer to the border, the protest swept past a line of riot police to get up to Mexico’s side of the line.
It is here that reports from the capitalist media say that small groups of protesters spread out on both sides of the port entry. Most groups did nothing more than come up to the border fence and yell or hang banners on it. But one of those small gatherings attempted to pass through a hole in the barbed wire and fencing placed by the Mexican government on the border. In response, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents fired flash-bang grenades and tear gas — a chemical weapon banned in warfare since 1993 — across the frontier into Mexico to forcibly disperse the protesters, at least 90 percent of whom were women and children that were peaceful, and stayed away from the fences and walls.
In the aftermath of the skirmish along the border, the propaganda machines in both the U.S. and Mexico went into overdrive. The intent was to tar the refugees as dishonest, dangerous, violent and even parasitic, with the goal of building up “public opinion” against their legitimate claims of asylum. The media dutifully lined up, playing up incidents of refugees impotently throwing rocks at CBP agents (incidents that, according to the CBP Commissioner, resulted in no injuries and only involved four agents) and echoing the White House’s lies about “lawlessness” and “tremendous violence.” News outlets in both countries repeated the lie-by-implication told by Mexico’s Interior Ministry that hundreds of refugees were being deported because they sought to “illegally” and “violently” cross the border — even though only 42 were arrested for attempting to enter the U.S. and none of them actually succeeded in crossing.
Nevertheless, the “provocation” (as Mexican authorities called it on Sunday, but buried on Monday) along the border allowed the exploiting classes, especially Trump’s White House, to effectively make the thousands of refugees into criminals. It also allowed Washington to successfully ignore long-standing U.S. law regarding the right of refugees to residency in the country while awaiting the processing of their asylum applications. It also allowed Mexican officials to continue to deny the refugees basic assistance and services.
The Facts Hidden by Propaganda
Since October, the so-called “Migrant Caravan” has been a favorite punching bag of propagandists and politicians alike. From the moment that the first 160 refugees gathered together in Honduras, the group was declared a serious threat by nearly every government in continental North America. At nearly every stop, the caravan was met by riot police or soldiers (or both), participants were removed or arrested, often for no cause, and regularly denied basics services, such as places to sleep or food to eat — all because virtually every official and news outlet along the path declared the people in the caravan to be “dangerous.”
But who was in this caravan? Contrary to the lies of the Trump White House, these were not “criminals and unknown middle easterners.” Quite the contrary. Most of those in the caravan were women and children fleeing gang violence and the epidemic of femicide, the murder of women for misogynistic reasons and in the name of machismo.
Since 1990, thousands of women have been killed by men for such things as talking to another man, refusing the advances of a man, challenging male-dominated authority, and so on. These murders are often accompanied by incidents of rape, assault, mutilation and torture, but tens of thousands more women have been victims of these crimes and have lived to tell their stories. But as many of these women will attest, there are few, if any, political, religious or media institutions in Honduras interested in listening to or doing anything about this wave of misogynistic brutality.
The most well-known incident of femicide in Honduras was the 2014 murder of María José Alvarado, who had recently won Miss Honduras. She and her sister, Sofía Trinidad, were brutally murdered by the sister’s boyfriend, Plutarco Ruiz, after he became jealous of her attending a party where other men were present. He shot Sofía after an argument, then turned his gun on the fleeing María, who was shot 12 times in the back. He eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30-40 years. From reports in local and international media, the only thing that surprised Hondurans about this case was the fact that Ruiz was tried and convicted; reports of femicide are usually not even investigated.
The situation for women only got worse after the reactionary coup d’état in 2009, which restored the conservative wing of capitalism to power. Incidents of femicide spiked; by 2013, an average of 53 women were being killed a month. By 2017, the most recent year for which data is available, the average was 32.4 killings a month, with 30.1 percent of all murders being women between the ages of 15 and 40. It was in the wake of the coup that the first caravans of refugees were organized in 2010. As femicide has grown in the region, spilling over into neighboring El Salvador and Guatemala, so have the size and scope of the caravans going north.
This is why we have insisted throughout this article to refer to those fleeing from the region to the U.S. as refugees and not simply migrants. They are mostly women and children fleeing the reactionary and misogynistic violence that has become rampant in that region. As well, most of the men in the refugee caravan are also fleeing from the gangs, looking for opportunities to engage in honest productive labor.
Refugees, Immigrants and Capitalism
However, it is not for nothing that the different exploiting classes along the path of the caravan have relentlessly attacked these refugees. Even if Washington had not made the demands it did or taken the steps to financially punish its client states south of the Rio Grande (e.g., threatening to further slash economic aid, which was already cut by 40 percent when Trump came into office), the ruling classes of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras would have taken it upon themselves to attack and arrest the refugees.
The exploiters of all four countries try to minimize and rationalize the effects of femicide and the gangs on the working class. Thus, when thousands of refugees gather together to escape these conditions, it not only exposes their propaganda as a lie, but also presents a core challenge in a society where the capitalists and their managers use misogyny as a tool to maintain social order. U.S. capitalism also benefits from this misogyny, on two levels: first, by keeping large sections of women from entering the labor force, and, second, by using the threat of deportation back to those countries to keep working women who do make it in the worst conditions.
In our central document, we point out that the exploiting classes take a dual approach toward immigration to keep workers under control: “on the one hand, isolating and marginalizing immigrant workers in their jobs and communities as much as possible; on the other hand, using a strict immigration control regime to make sure there are just enough foreign-born workers to continue production at needed levels.” Again, contrary to the propaganda, the ruling classes don’t oppose immigration — including so-called “illegal” immigration. Fearmongering and repression are key elements of capitalism’s “strict immigration control regime,” designed to keep both native and immigrant workers divided from each others and subject to the whims of the exploiters.
Moreover, there is no liberal or social-democratic “path to citizenship” that will affect this approach, as it is integral to capitalism’s production system. Indeed, for all their talk about it, the liberals and leftists of the Democratic Party have only aided and abetted the continued functioning of this system — this includes the Obama White House giving tacit approval to the 2009 coup in Honduras. Senator Bernie Sanders, the social-democratic darling of the Left, limits his criticism to only the more egregious specifics of Trump’s immigration policy and says nothing about the overall control regime or the effect it has on workers of all backgrounds.
It will take the unity and self-organization of workers of all nationalities, guided by its own communist program, to break apart the rule of the capitalists and their managers, and put an end to the superexploitation of immigrant workers. It is this fight to which we commit ourselves fully.