A Nation of Immigrants? Give Us a Break!
America: “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses, Yearning to Be Free”... So We Can Exploit the Shit Out of Them
February 6, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
As the Trump-Pence regime carries out a white supremacist, Christian fascist war on immigrants—now especially focused on Muslims, but definitely aiming their fire as well on immigrants from Mexico and all “outsiders”—those on the “other side of the aisle” among the U.S. rulers insist that this is a “nation of immigrants.” The bourgeois liberals of the Democratic Party claim that the “inclusive” message on the Statue of Liberty—“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to be free”—is what has and should characterize America.
The “alternative facts” of the Trump-Pence fascists about immigrants are lies serving the blatant exercise of dictatorship by the U.S. capitalist-imperialists. But the “nation of immigrants” narrative of the liberal rulers is also a falsehood covering over the real nature and history of this system. Here are a few basic truths about immigrants and the U.S.:
» Along with the genocidal dispossession of Native Americans, the whole foundational wealth of this country was built on generations of “forced immigrants”—millions of Africans who were kidnapped, sold, and sent to the Americas, including to the British colonies that would become the United States. Numbers alone cannot capture the agony and suffering this meant for these human beings, but over two million kidnapped people died horribly just in the voyages from Africa. As works like The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism and others show, the coerced labor of the slaves—under threat of torture, rape, and wanton murder—did not just profit the Southern slave owners, but was crucial to the rising capitalist system in this country as a whole. Bob Avakian points to a central reality about this country when he says: “There would be no United States as we now know it today without slavery. That is a simple and basic truth.” (BAsics 1:1)
» Different immigrant groups from oppressed countries have not only been bitterly exploited in the U.S., but also subjected to the extra oppression of white supremacy—treated as the “other” and discriminated against, and at times becoming targets of violent attacks by official law enforcement or racist mobs. The U.S. stole half of Mexico’s land through war and invasion in the 1800s to form what is now the current border. And the exploitation of immigrants from Mexico—forced to look for a livelihood north of the border because the economy of their country has been so fucked up by U.S. domination—has long been a critical part of the U.S. capitalist economy. While shunted into the most dangerous, back-breaking, low-paying work in the fields and factories, Mexican immigrants have also been scapegoated, hunted down, and deported en masse. Between 1954 and 1956, the U.S. government carried out a military-style campaign of round-ups and mass deportations of Mexicans living in this country. This “Operation Wetback”—after the openly racist term for Mexicans—deported 1.3 million Mexicans out of the U.S., tearing apart families and terrorizing and decimating entire communities. (See “American Crime: Case #78: “Operation Wetback”—1954-56.”) More recently, under President Obama, the U.S. deported a record-breaking total of more than 2.5 million immigrants, many to Mexico—leading many to call him “Deporter-in-Chief.”
» Another grouping of immigrants from an oppressed nation were about a quarter of a million Chinese who came to the U.S. in the mid- to late 1800s as indentured servants who had to work under near-slave conditions for years or even decades. Chinese people were the target of the first U.S. law banning immigration of a specific ethnic or national group (1882 Chinese Exclusion Act). This law and other official anti-Chinese moves unleashed a flood of racist vigilante violence, with mobs burning homes, looting shops, branding people with hot irons, and lynching.
» Successive waves of millions of immigrants from Europe—from Ireland, Germany, Poland, Italy, and elsewhere—came to the U.S. throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Part of the lure for many in the early 1800s was the promise of “free land,” which, of course, was not some unoccupied “free” territory but land stolen—through violent force and broken treaties—from the Native Americans who were the original inhabitants. The labor of these European immigrants was poured into the building up of capitalism in the U.S.—which developed into an imperialist colossus by the end of the 1800s. They were exploited under inhuman and dangerous conditions in the factories, sweatshops, mills, mines, and railroads. One notorious incident, among many, was the 1911 fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York City that killed 147 garment workers, mostly young immigrant Italian and Jewish women, trapped in a building with the doors locked from the outside. In countless instances, workers—many, if not most, of whom were immigrants—who rose up to do something about their conditions were mowed down by police, troops, and company goons. Just to name two: 30 strikers killed in the 1894 strike by Pullman railroad workers; and 19 killed, mostly women and children, at a camp of striking coal miners in Ludlow, Colorado, in 1914.
» Based on the supremacy of U.S. imperialism around the world, and the ability of the rulers to use some of the spoils from this global domination to buy social stability in their home base, there has been some movement for many among the various immigrant groups into the middle class and beyond. For European immigrants, this involved integration into “white America”—fitting themselves into the dominant white-supremacist relations in this country. And that meant distinguishing themselves from Black people, even if they had at first started at or near the bottom rungs of the working class. As for Mexicans and other non-whites, even those who have “made it” out of the most harshly exploited positions continue to face racist discrimination and oppression as a people in a society shot through with white supremacy.
Whether they’re the fascists and more “traditional” right wingers, or the supposedly “inclusive” bourgeois democrats, the rulers of this capitalist-imperialist system fundamentally see the masses of immigrants as nothing but objects to be mercilessly exploited—and/or blamed as the cause of problems that the system itself has created and then hounded, persecuted, brutalized, and driven out. It’s not in the interests of the great majority of people to side with either of them.
There is actually a vision and plan for a radically different, and profoundly liberating, society—the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, authored by Bob Avakian and adopted by the Central Committee of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. This is a plan for a revolutionary socialist society—full of vibrant diversity, critical thinking, creativity, internationalism—that is moving toward communism, a world without one part of society ruling over others, without countries and borders, without all the oppressive relations and ideas that imprison humanity today. This new socialist society will handle the question of borders and immigration in light of that goal. Get into this radical step into the future here.
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