From Immigrant Rights to National Liberation
By Carlos Petroni
When empires arise throughout history, people who succumb to their ruling classes are “shackled,” “colonized,” “civilized” and “protected” from themselves and their own “weaknesses” by the tyrants of the time. There is one law, to which all of us in this world are subject, which is that we cannot be dominated if we are not subjugated by force. A ruling class must seize our countries, our markets, our labor power as their property and force us to spill our blood and that of other workers and the oppressed during wars of conquest in order to maximize the extraction of all possible wealth possible.
When empires decline, rebellions inevitably begin, and with the ousting of rulers the oppressed can reclaim and rebuild their own land. The prisons and jails are opened; people flow into the streets and break the barricades that until then were invisible. They ignite the fires of liberation in order to be rulers in their own land, revive their culture and take pride in who they are.
There are 50 million Latinos in the United States. A huge majority of them are Mexicanos and their brothers and sisters in history, the Central Americans, and their cousins, the South Americans. They are the sons, heirs and hostages of “Manifest Destiny,” the plan for a US empire that plundered the still young, inexperienced, weak and semi-unpopulated nations and peoples of Old Mexico and everywhere south of the USA.
The American empire swept from the Atlantic to the Pacific, killing native people along the way, burying them “alive” on reservations, stealing land from Mexico, buying land from France (Louisiana Purchase) and negotiating other agreements with Spain. “Manifest Destiny” was a policy of bloody conquest and was justified through an ideology where the “inferiority” of the conquered was not limited to the color of their skin, but also to the origin of their culture.
“Remember the Alamo!” was the slogan (a commemorative slogan of the conquest’s “martyrs” in Texas) used during several invasions and land grabs in order to disguise those acts of piracy and massacre as moments of revenge. With this phrase the conquerors guided by “Manifest Destiny” alleged “self-determination” in order to disguise their invasion of foreign lands. They claimed Texas and other western territory which eventually become southwestern states. It was also on the lips of the hundreds of thousands of people who came west in search of gold and stole California.
The United States grew from a colony to a country, then into a colonial empire and later into a hegemonic imperial empire. There have been a hundred and fifty years of Marines disembarking for “The halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.” They have propped up puppet dictators throughout the South American continent that they considered their “back porch.” It has been a similar story in the neighborhoods, cities, and countries of Europe, North Africa, Asia and the Middle East after the First and Second World Wars. With wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, the USA is now once again on the shores of Tripoli, or in the air over the shores.
For the last one hundred and fifty years, the subjugated Mexicanos, their children, their descendants, their relatives in the rest of the Americas and other indigenous people have generously shared their territory while they lost rebellion after rebellion, fighting against the unstoppable rise of US imperialism. Then when they tried to assimilate into society, to achieve some level of equality that would allow them to live, work, and survive, they have always been rejected, though sometimes given minimal concessions.
This is a recorded history of one hundred and fifty years of being suppressed, discriminated against, buried in the worst jobs, pursued by La Migra (once the INS, now ICE), with their existence denied in statistics, dying in wars that were not theirs, being hunted as “greasers,” shot at from trains like buffalo, being slaughtered as “pachucos” in Los Angeles during World War II, being chased by helicopters in the desert and raided when working in factories. As for going to the Middle East to kill Arabs or be killed in order to get a laminated document of citizenship … nothing reeks more strongly of oppression.
Meanwhile wave after wave of immigrants from Europe have been slowly, progressively incorporated, assimilated and semi-accepted, increasingly so when they participated in the oppression of later generations of immigrants. White immigrants with blue, brown and green eyes, were shipped from so far away that they had nothing on their arrival to claim, nothing to recover. They could adapt and if possible submit passively to oppression. However their experience in Europe with anarchism, socialism, trade unions and other social struggles influenced their participation in similar movements which arose on this continent. They soon faced anti-Semitism, internment during US wars against their countries of origin, anti-communist raids, deportations and eventually McCarthyism. The cost of this immigrant assimilation was paid to a government which systematically picked off the rebels and nonconformists.
White immigrants came to the USA to face their only feasible option. They became pawns in the forcible colonization of America. Sometimes they were compensated with a piece of land, a mule and a place among the oppressors. Most but not all disappeared into the crowds that later marched West. Many of the earliest immigrants came here as “indentured servants,” essentially temporary white slaves. Their situation was different from that of the black slaves brought to the US in the same time period. If they managed to survive and work their way out of indenture they were set free, which did not happen at all to black slaves.
The people of Africa, “engillados,” were brought to America chained in ships, starved during the cross-Atlantic middle passage and traumatized by the whips of “civilization.” So many people were brought over from the central parts of Africa that some nations of that continent have no demographic representation other than their descendants in the Americas. They were brought to several parts of the Americas including Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and in the largest numbers to Brazil and the USA.
For them, there was no justice in the USA until the great struggles of the US Civil War and the later Civil Rights Movement were won. Even today, apart from a small black bourgeoisie and middle class, most working class and poor black people live in ghettoes and will not realize their full potential. There has never been any compensation for the beatings, hangings, rapes, humiliation and dispossession of everything, everything but the one thing that could not be taken away, the color of their skin. The promises of reparations from the North’s victory in the US Civil War, by which the freed slaves were to be compensated for the tremendous wealth they had created for the rulers of this country, were never fulfilled. All the freed slaves got was segregation and the Ku Klux Klan.
All of these people came from far away. Many former slaves wanted to return to Africa and some did. They founded Liberia and soon encountered centuries of imperialist exploitation on the African continent by the Europeans and Americans.
The Mexicanos, the Central Americans and the South Americans are different. They are here but they are also there, only one step away, across porous borders, with a memory of lands that were once theirs, that their ancestors walked on. Scratch a little on the conscience of any Latino, especially a Mexicano and the question will arise: if it is our land, why can we not govern here? Why is it not still ours?
No one can say that Latinos, particularly Mexicanos and Central Americans, have not tried to integrate themselves into US society. They have demanded, year after year, more democratic rights as immigrants: amnesty for undocumented immigrants, participation in trade unions, the end of persecution by the INS (ICE) on the border; the right to vote in local elections, etc. They were the focus in 2006 of the new May Day masses, waving US flags, with hundreds of thousands marching throughout the country. With each subsequent May Day, the conservatives strongly and the liberals timidly, have denied every need, every grito – every call for justice.
Again and again they have been driven out, pushed into new ghettos or granted meager concessions that in the next breath were taken back. The ruling class, using their well-oiled bourgeois media machine, has used each new incident of economic crisis to scapegoat Latinos.
The media machine said it was not the large banks that burst the speculation bubble; it was the “illegal workers who are an unbearable burden for the state.” It was not the real estate scams and irresponsibility of the bourgeoisie that caused the financial collapse of the construction and sale of property, it was “those who take advantage of the rights and services that are not theirs.” The media did not mention that it was the state, government and political system of the Democratic and Republican parties which pushed for the transfer of production to other countries, seeking poverty wages and greater profits, that caused rising unemployment, but rather “those who come to the USA to steal jobs from real Americans!”
The media lies and lies and lies some more, saying it is not the policies of the state and its ruling parties which has embezzled and ruined Social Security but rather, “Illegal immigrants who use our healthcare and social services, preventing them from being available for citizens and legal residents.”
Numbers are distorted, statistics manipulated and the news is hidden that 75% of undocumented immigrants pay taxes that are not returned to them in services of any kind. The media hides the fact that millions of false “Social Security Numbers” are a conduit for contributions used to subsidize the system for the benefit of those who do have papers. In this way the media vilifies the massive immigrant community, which constitutes the majority of people in dozens of large cities, medium-size towns and states. These immigrants have created an economy of consumption, jobs, investment and culture through which moves an estimated hundreds of billions of dollars.
There are Spanish-speaking radio and television stations (vast networks of them!) having the largest audiences in the country, newspapers that are read in greater numbers than many of their English counterparts, factories, workshops, restaurants, cinemas, theaters, sports centers, civic associations, non-profits, cultural centers, writers, playwrights, actors and actresses … all of which shows that within the belly of US imperialism has been created a virtual Latino republic, about which the CIA continues to write documents alleging that “after terrorism, illegal immigration is the biggest internal security problem.”
Now the empire is falling; its end is in sight. The Anglo ruling classes have lost their industrial, commercial and financial hegemony and will soon lose the military conquests of “Manifest Destiny” as well.The Republic of Latin Americans is emerging, more so every day, as a real possibility. Does this mean renouncing the fight for civil and democratic rights for all? That’s not the solution. A different perspective is necessary. We must work for a national conscience of the Latin American people that wants to build a movement for national liberation.
For decades, community leaders have urged people to trust the promises of the Democrats, the promises the Democrats have made but have not kept. It is clear these leaders who ask us to believe lies need to be replaced. It is not a matter of having faith. Faith has been exhausted. During the existential crisis of this empire there is no solution even for the emperors (the growth of the situation in Wisconsin has shown this clearly) and even less will there be solutions based on justice or equality for those whom the system fears and has always scorned.
In recent decades there was a perspective that mass uprisings in Mexico and Latin America could exacerbate Latino struggles on the US side of the border. Now, between the drug trafficking and the betrayal of Latin American leaders, the immigrants on the US side of the border are rising up not only to free themselves but to light the path for the struggles in Latin America.
In order to succeed in this they must do what they do best: organize, but instead of hiding their demands they must expose them to the fullest. This means building union and community leadership that challenges the previous weak strategies of compromise, and creating political organizations prepared to survive the fall of the empire.
Latinos can only rely on their own strength and from that position of strength appeal to potential allies. Massive marches are fine, they expose our struggle to others and allow us to raise our banners, but they are not enough. Strikes, mobilization, protests in the streets, all forms of direct action and even the use of elections to define ourselves, propaganda, agitation and education are all weapons we can carry to the barricades as we fight for freedom.
Will there be a reaction on the right in light of our demands for freedom? Those who ask this question should be aware that such a reaction, called right-wing religious fundamentalism, the Tea Party or fascism, has already arisen and will continue to grow, not so much because of what we do but because of how much they want our submission. All we can do is face them when and where they raise their heads and speak the first insult.
Who should lead? The people who work and produce, the workers in the fields and cities, those who have the power to shut down the workplaces, towns, cities, states and organize the rest of the people.
Are there no potential allies? Of course there are. There are White, Asian and Black workers who can decide to fight against and get rid ofthe union bureaucrats. There are those who oppose capitulation to the political parties of the empire, the Democrats and Republicans. Those that take those stands and more are our potential allies. Those that remain on the side of the ruling class are our enemies, although we hope that they will only stay in this category temporarily. There is nothing to gain by the permanence of our oppression.
A republic of equals, of workers and oppressed peoples, on this side of the border can erase that border. It can join a vast continent wide movement to break the chains of oppression and cause them to fall, along with imperialism, into the abyss. It is this international class struggle that is ours.
There exists no reason nor should there exist any claim to subjugate others. That would only be repeating the cycle of imperialist oppression by changing some factors and would cause the next rebellion. On the contrary, the objective of our struggle must be the elimination of all racial and ethnic prejudice, the end of discrimination of all kinds, the abolition of the exploitation of some by others, full participatory democracy of the workers, and the unity of the consumers, producers and the oppressed. Socialism is the only salvation of the people and the world. There is no other way.