Posts tagged United States
Posts tagged United States
This article, by synthesizing personal observation and statistical information, attempts to understand how U.S. anti-immigrant policies have emerged to produce profit for American corporations by criminalizing undocumented U.S. residents. Though the data used in this article is primarily focused on U.S. immigrants from Latin America, the author recognizes that undocumented people from all over the world reside in the U.S. and that no person should be understood to be “illegal.”
Monday through Friday, from 9am to 4pm, the hallways of Webster Elementary School in southwest Detroit are a site for busy teachers, dutiful hall monitors, kindergarteners lined up for recess, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers. The ICE officers do their best not to trip over Tinker Bell backpacks as they peer into art classrooms, dodgeball gym sessions, and the cafeteria. What are they looking for? Community members speculate that the ICE surveys schools in order to monitor new students who may “appear to be illegal,” as a way of tracking undocumented populations in the United States. In a neighborhood where a person can be pulled over for looking “too brown,” this is not difficult to believe.
Charged comments during recent Republican primaries have reopened a political can of worms – immigration. While both political parties argue about the character and economic effects of immigrants in the United States, they exclude two crucial questions: why is there an influx of immigration and what role has the US played in this influx?
Although many policies have shaped immigration between the US and Mexico, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has had one of the strongest impacts. When Congress passed NAFTA in 1994, it originally had the intention of “promoting greater economic integration between migrant sending countries and the United States through free trade.”(1) Since NAFTA’s inception, however, an estimated six million Mexican immigrants have come to the US, representing a 10% increase in the percentage of Mexican born immigrants living in America(2). Thus, despite its supposed goal of integrating the US and migrant sending countries, NAFTA has delivered contrary results. (1)
For as long as there have been organized leftist groups in the United States, these movements have been subjected to constant state suppression. Throughout the late nineteenth century, those who fought for social justice and demonstrated and struck for workers’ rights were in a constant state of war with industrial capitalists, their state, and their private mercenaries. Those who questioned inequality and the system that created and perpetuated it, mostly referred to by the mass media as anarchists, were constantly demonized as insane bomb-throwing foreigners who were attempting to destroy civilization.
However, those repressive measures were tame compared to the onslaught that was to follow the October Revolution and the ensuing establishment of a proletarian state in the former Russian Empire. In 1918, the US Congress passed the Sedition Act, which criminalized criticizing the constitution, the United States, or its entry into World War I. Ostensibly enacted to protect the war effort from German saboteurs, the Sedition Act was used to imprison many anticapitalist activists, including many members of the Industrial Workers of the World, and the leader of the Socialist Party of America, Eugene V. Debs. In the following years, Attorney General Mitchell Palmer had thousands of radicals and immigrants arrested for their beliefs, hundreds of which were deported back to their home countries or to the Soviet Union. In the same year, thousands of police officers and soldiers were required to put down a general strike of over 60,000 workers in Seattle. And in 1921, the so-called Battle of Blair Mountain saw 10,000 coal miners face the US army in an armed confrontation, which the government and management won in part by using the US Air Force and private planes to drop bombs on their own citizens. All of these actions have by and large remained beyond the scope of US history books, which routinely omit and distort labour’s role in shaping the country.
The main example of state repression of leftist movements that most Americans are familiar with is probably the Second Red Scare of the late 1940s and 50s led by Senator Joseph McCarthy. The USSR’s successful testing of a nuclear weapon and the Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War, both in 1949, and set against the backdrop of the beginning of the cold war, sparked a renewed wave of fear and hatred directed at leftists. The US House of Representatives’ Un-American Activities Committee attempted to root out alleged communist subversives inside not only the US government, but also in private and cultural areas such as the movie industry. The FBI, led by Palmer’s protégé J. Edgar Hoover, spied on individuals and infiltrated various organizations that were thought to pose a threat to the government of the United States.These activities were eventually formalized as the Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), which utilized even more aggressive tactics, including assassinating radical leaders, in particular members of the Black Panther Party. Hundreds of members of the Communist Party of the United States were arrested and tried under a new anti-free speech law, the Smith Act of 1940, which made it a crime to advocate the overthrow of the US government.
Although McCarthy’s power eventually waned, his namesake ideology remains strong even today, as anticommunist sentiment is still inculcated in Americans by our government, school textbooks, and mass media. Most Americans today see “Communism” as an inherently evil thing, even though they often cannot articulate what it is and can even be found to agree with its principles (for example, a 2010 poll found that 42% of Americans believe that the passage, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” comes from the US Constitution rather than the Communist Manifesto). Today as the capitalist system teeters daily on the edge of collapse, we need radical alternatives more than ever. In this context the leftist movement must work to break through this legacy of repression and distortion to pose real alternatives.
On March 8, 1971, activists known as the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania and stole thousands of secret files. Among these files were documents that proved the existence of the Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), an FBI initiative dedicated to suppressing dissent and preventing revolution in the United States.
One of the main targets of the program was the Black Panther Party (BPP). J. Edgar Hoover himself referred to the Panthers as “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country,” and this belief was demonstrated by his vicious campaign to destroy them. Perhaps the most famous FBI document of this era discusses the threat of the BPP and other black nationalist organizations. One of the FBI’s goals, the document stated, was to “prevent the rise of a ‘messiah’ who could unify, and electrify, the militant black nationalist movement.” Therefore, it continued, a function of COINTELPRO should be to “pinpoint potential troublemakers and neutralize them.”1 This campaign of neutralization included the murders, in cooperation with police departments across the country, of over twenty Black Panther Party members.2
The operation took other forms as well, such as sending Party officials fake letters from supposed comrades and supporters with the intent of sowing dissension and distrust among the Party leadership. These were often successful. A series of letters written by the FBI contributed to the increasing hostility between Eldridge Cleaver and Huey P. Newton, probably the two most powerful figures in the Party.3 The FBI also frequently raided Party offices, arrested huge numbers of Panthers, and infiltrated the organization with FBI operatives and snitches. Among the most creative FBI actions taken against the Black Panther Party was creating a fake children’s coloring book, supposedly authored by the Panthers, which among other things depicted black children shooting police officers.4 All of these tactics helped bring about the decline of the Black Panthers. The Party, which only a few years earlier had seemed to be the vanguard of the growing revolutionary socialist movement in the United States, ceased to exist in 1976.
Although the Black Panthers were considered to be the greatest threat to the ruling classes during this time, they were far from the only one. Others included political parties such as the Communist Party USA and the Socialist Workers Party, civil rights organizations like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Council, Black Panther-inspired radical ethnic nationalists like the American Indian Movement and the Puerto Rican nationalist Young Lords, and the student New Left led by Students for a Democratic Society. All of these groups, along with many other organizations and individuals, were spied on, infiltrated, harassed, and otherwise targeted for “neutralization” by the FBI as part of COINTELPRO.5
In 1975, the U.S. Senate, pressured by the Citizens’ Commission break-in and the exposure of other secret intelligence operations by investigative journalists, created a committee to study the legality of FBI and CIA activity in the 60s and 70s.
In its final report this committee concluded, “Unsavory and vicious tactics have been employed — including anonymous attempts to break up marriages, disrupt meetings, ostracize persons from their professions, and provoke target groups into rivalries that might result in deaths.” 6 Even the U.S. government was moved to, at least in public, denounce unscrupulous COINTELPRO activities, and the program was officially shut down around the same time.
On September 24, 2010, the FBI conducted raids on the homes and offices of anti-war, Palestinian solidarity, and socialist activists in Minneapolis and Chicago. They also issued grand jury subpoenas to fourteen members of these groups. This operation, which has involved infilitrating the groups with FBI agents and attempting to charge their members with providing “material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations,”7 is part of the never-ending campaign by the FBI to discredit and intimidate activists. These activities prove that although COINTELPRO no longer officially exists, its spirit and tactics live on. Rather than an unpleasant aberration, the program was simply part of a long history of state repression in the United States, from the 1919 suppression of the Socialist Party and Industrial Workers of the World to the present day.
1. Index of COINTELPRO Documents: http://www.icdc.com/~paulwolf/cointelpro/cointelindex.htm
2. Churchill, Ward. The COINTELPRO Papers: p. 143
3. Abu Jamal, Mumia. We want freedom: a life in the Black Panther Party, p. 212
4. Churchill, xvi
5. Index of COINTELPRO Documents
6. Church Committee Report: http://www.icdc.com/~paulwolf/cointelpro/churchfinalreportIIa.htm
7. Committee to Stop FBI Repression: http://www.stopfbi.net/about
By Jack Hagen