Fighting national oppression: Road to anti-war unity
By Fred Goldstein
Published Oct 27, 2005 10:40 PM

The most important task of the anti-war movement in this country is to build a united front with the workers and oppressed peoples of the United States. The movement must address national oppression and class exploitation in a serious way if it is to become an effective weapon in the struggle against imperialism, and not restrict itself to being a mere protest movement that assembles periodically.

The working class’s problems are mounting on every front: from union busting to health-care cutbacks, pension takebacks, wage cuts, unemployment, declining safety on the job, massive super-exploitation of immigrant workers, cutbacks in education and day care, lack of affordable housing, the gender gap in wages, racism in hiring, etc. Fighting the attacks on the working class must be an integral part of the anti-war movement if it is to represent and mobilize the decisive sectors that can actually stop the war—the working class and the oppressed people of this country.

But in its attention to the class struggle and as a special and decisive part of the struggle against imperialism, the anti-war movement must pay the closest attention to the question of national oppression in this country. It is particularly important at the moment for the movement to reach out and forge unity around New Orleans and the struggle for the right of return, reconstruction and reparations.

This is the cutting-edge issue of the Black liberation movement today. It must be supported by all progressive and revolutionary forces, not just in word but in deed.

It is an axiom of Marxist class politics that the ruling class’s foreign policy is a direct extension of its domestic policy. Put simply, this means that their wars abroad are a continuation of their war at home—the war to enforce exploitation and oppression.

Rarely has this connection been symbolized so dramatically as in New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The Black community of New Orleans, 350,000 people or more, was overwhelmingly the victim of the hurricane in that city. And it was victimized primarily through criminal neglect by all levels of government during the crisis, which caused at least a thousand deaths and incalculable suffering.

Criminal neglect and occupation

But added to the suffering resulting from criminal neglect—being left stranded on roof-tops, in the Superdome, the Con vention Center and elsewhere for five days —came a brutal military/police occupation.

The Louisiana National Guard, part of which is serving in Iraq, was mobilized against the community. The 82nd Air borne, which carried out atrocities against the Iraqi people in Falluja, was sent into New Orleans. Heavily armed Blackwater mercenaries—the same group hired by the Pentagon to guard oil wells and train U.S. troops in Iraq—turned up on the streets of New Orleans to control the Black population.

Together with the police, this combined armed force herded people onto buses and forcibly separated families—children from parents, husbands from wives, relatives from relatives—in a manner many victims said was reminiscent of the days of slavery and the auction block.

People were executed on the spot. Over 2,000 were jailed, allegedly for “looting,” often for taking their only means of survival.

Those 2,000—overwhelmingly Black males—lanquish in jail today.

The armed force of the racist capitalist state came to ensure “law and order” in a situation in which people were starving, dehydrated, sick, injured, worried to death over the whereabouts of their families and loved ones and had lost everything they owned.

Deliberate plan to disperse Black community

Through the command of the National Guard and the regular army, the Pentagon occupiers of Iraq played a key role in the repression in New Orleans.

It was they who orchestrated the occupation. It was they who sent recruiters into the Houston Astrodome to sign up desperate youths for Iraq in the midst of the disaster.

Most importantly, they helped to execute the planned dispersal of the Black population of New Orleans to cities across the country. It was part of a general plan to seize the opportunity presented by the levees breaking and the consequent flooding to fragment and dissolve the Black community, break up any cohesion and prevent it from returning to New Orleans as a community.

This operation in New Orleans was as much a conscious act of imperialist aggression as the war in Iraq. The political implications for the anti-war movement are as clear as a bell.

The struggle against the war abroad can not be separated from the struggle against the war at home. And that war, in the case of Katrina, was part of a war of oppression against the Black nation in the same way that the war in Iraq is a war of national oppression against the Iraqi people.

It is no accident that in 2003 President George W. Bush appointed Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police chief under reactionary Mayor Rudy Giuliani, to train the Iraqi police. Having served as head of the racist occupation forces in the biggest Black community in the United States made Kerik eminently qualified to train puppet colonial police for the Pentagon occupiers.

This is yet another living example of the foreign policy being an extension of domestic policy.

Also note that Raymond Kelly, Wall Street’s current New York City police chief, was the director of the International Police Monitors in Haiti during 1994 and 1995, training the Haitian police.

If things need to be made any clearer, just look at how the first contracts doled out for New Orleans went to Vice President Dick Cheney’s former firm of Halliburton, the U.S. corporate overseer and prime war contractor in Iraq.

Among Halliburton’s tasks in New Orleans was to deal with helping the oil industry. Halliburton’s primary but not exclusive role in Iraq is to oversee the takeover of the Iraqi oil industry.

The same corporations that pump oil out of the Gulf of Mexico and refine millions of barrels a day in New Orleans are the ones that backed the invasion of oil-rich Iraq.

The giant oil companies work hand-in-glove with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Gens. Abizaid and Casey in Iraq. They are also a major power in New Orleans, connected to the corporate and banking world there—and they are ultimately responsible, with the rest of the region’s industrialists and financiers, for the poverty, racism and oppression endured by the Black community of New Orleans.

The struggle against the war in Iraq cannot be separated from the struggle of the Black liberation movement to reconstitute the Black community in New Orleans and to exercise the right of self-determination in taking control of the reconstruction effort to rebuild the city, which was 70 percent Black before Katrina.

The intimate connection between imperialist war abroad and national oppression at home, and the absolute necessity to combine the struggle against both, must become a pillar of the anti-war movement.

Sept. 24: An opportunity for unity missed

On Sept. 24 perhaps 300,000 people assembled in Washington under the general demand to “Bring the Troops Home Now.”

The demonstration was a welcome reawakening of the anti-war movement in the biggest demonstration since the war began. It was spurred by media coverage of Cindy Sheehan, who camped out in Crawford, Texas. Yet as excellent as it was, it cannot escape attention that it was overwhelmingly white. Leave aside for the moment that the organized working class was in very limited attendance.

To a certain extent, this is due to historical reasons and material reasons beyond the control of the organizers. The anti-war movement of the Vietnam War era, under the guidance of liberals and social democrats, put up a wall between itself and the African American liberation struggle as well as the struggle against racism. Major, historic demonstrations—such as the Moratorium of half a million people—took place while Nixon administration’s COINTELPRO operations were destroying the Black Panther Party and other Black liberation organizations.

Ironically, it was precisely the repeated uprisings of the African American people against racism, police brutality and poverty, including the simultaneous rebellions in over 100 cities in 1968 after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., that were a significant factor that frightened the ruling class about continuing the Vietnam War. Nevertheless, the official anti-war movement turned its back on the Black rebellions and the resistance in the Black community; a legacy of disunity was established.

Because today’s movement has been largely white, and the Sept. 24 demonstration took place in the midst of a massive crisis for the Black nation, a historic opportunity to take a giant step toward mending relations presented itself. The organizers could have used four full weeks to make it known that this demonstration was going to elevate the cause of New Orleans and come to the aid of Black people in time of need. The Katrina crisis was the domestic equivalent of Iraq for the hundreds of thousands of African Ameri cans displaced and dispersed with callous insensitivity and brutality.

To be sure, a few slogans were added on. A New Orleans speaker was included in the program. But what was needed was to embrace the struggle of New Orleans for dear life. The Black leaders fighting for the cause of New Orleans should have been offered the opportunity to convene and discuss with the organizers, reshaping the program without sacrificing the struggle against the war.

What was needed was to develop the most effective methods to use this massive gathering to forge solidarity and unity in the struggle against the Bush administration, state and local officials and corporate parasites, who are all trying to make permanent the destruction of the New Orleans Black community.

Efforts could have been made to merge the anti-war message with an explanation of the profound political meaning of this crisis for the African American community—many of whom regard what was happening as a setback of historic proportions. It was necessary to explore follow-up solidarity and support, to be organized and determined by representatives of the Black struggle taking up the issue.

What was needed was to make an appeal to the hundreds of thousands gathered for a massive solidarity and support network that would mobilize all over the country and render aid and assistance to the New Orleans leadership in getting the dispersed population at least located, possibly registered, and to funnel the information to the organizers of the effort to return.

One thing that would have demonstrated solidarity on the spot would have been to march to an armory near the rally in Washington, D.C. There, evacuees were being housed. Such a march would have served notice to evacuees that they were not alone, and served notice on the government that the masses of the anti-war movement were standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the African American people.

Millions More Movement ignored

Another failure to show solidarity with African Americans was the organizers’ unwillingness to promote and publicize the Millions More Movement rally that was coming up on Oct. 15, just three weeks later.

The MMM rally was dedicated to helping the victims of Katrina. It was to be a unity rally and a gathering of a broad spectrum of national African American leadership, under the auspices of and at the invitation of Hon. Minister Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam. As it turned out, more than a million African American people came to the MMM rally, according to the organizers.

In fact, the MMM rally was very much an anti-war rally as well as a rally for Katrina victims. Most important, though, it was a manifestation of the various currents in the leadership of the Black nation. As such, it was an attempt to take the self-determination of African American people as an oppressed nation a step forward.

It was an attempt to bring broader sectors of the African American population into alliance with Latin@s, Native Americans, poor people in general, with Africa, Cuba and Venezuela—and to move toward independence from the yoke of the oppressor nation dominated by the white racist ruling class.

National oppression and unity in the movement

The anti-war movement must recognize that the United States is a prisonhouse of nations.

This prisonhouse of nations is made up of African Americans, whose ancestors were kidnapped from Africa and enslaved; of Latin@s, whose land in the southwest was annexed when the United States stole one-third of Mexico; of the Native Ameri can population, who were consigned to concentration camps called reservations after their land was stolen; of Chinese people, whose ancestors were brought here as indentured servants to build the railroads. It is populated by more and more immigrant nationalities from the Middle East, South Asia and Latin America, people who come here because U.S. imperialist corporations have taken over their coun tries and they cannot survive at home.

These nationalities make up the oppressed sectors of the population and the multinational working class. They are at one and the same time the most exploited parts of the population and potentially the most militant, dynamic force in the struggle against imperialist war and exploitation.

But the centuries of racism by the ruling class works to break up the unity of our class. The only way to forge that unity is for every organization that is based in the dominant white oppressor nation to demonstrate its independence from the racist ruling class by recognizing the right of self determination of the oppressed and extending every measure of solidarity possible in word and in deed.

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