May Day means defend immigrant workers’ right to strike, no imperialist war on People’s Korea!
Following are excerpted remarks by Larry Holmes, Workers World Party first secretary, at an April 15 “Build for May Day” forum in New York City. To view video of these remarks, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=dp9Gvl9CpeY
Thank you so much comrade Ariella [Ariella Riapos, activist with Guevaristas for Revolutionary Empowerment of Black and Latinx Society] for that presentation. It is so important that we hear on a first-hand basis the plight of our immigrant sisters and brothers and families because in many ways, in this country, that’s what May Day 2017 is all about.
We’re all thinking about the situation in Korea, in the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], the war threat. It seems the right time to pose the question or — even better — the challenge.
We’ve seen a big anti-Trump movement. We’ve seen the women’s marches. We’ve seen progressive people go to the airports to fight the ban, in solidarity with Muslims and Arabs and Black and Brown people.
Now we must see if we can make this anti-Trump movement — or big parts of it — an anti-imperialist movement. Not just an anti-war movement — that would be a good step — but an anti-imperialist movement, because the process of doing that requires education. I don’t think it will be that difficult. I could be wrong.
It’s made all the more difficult because the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, what the mainstream wing of the Democratic Party, says. They’re all imperialists, and I might touch on that in a bit.
But the liberal wing, especially in the context of using “Russia rigged the elections” — they made the issue into Russia. This is a huge mistake and it’s confused everybody, or potentially confused people. It’s made it easier — or I should say, can make it easier — for the imperialists to carry
through on their war, because we’re disarmed.
I used to enjoy watching Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. I can’t be the only one who thought when she came on — wow, a lesbian, woman, progressive, finally got an important spot. We don’t agree with everything she’s saying. She’s bourgeois, but you’re so used to the rest of Fox and CNN.
I’m not just singling her out. She’s an example of all of the phony leftists, really. What has she done? Last night in the midst of this war crisis, she had videos of the courageous people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea rallying in the square with their weapons. She was calling Kim Jong Un, the leader, a madman, insane.
This is what they do. This is the same thing as calling immigrants rapists. You dehumanize them. You dehumanize them so it’s easy to shoot them, to bomb them, to jail them, to carry out genocide. It’s racist.
We have got to separate anybody who’s trying to be progressive from this kind of racist, anti-communist propaganda. That’s number one.
Number two, we’ve just got to tell it like it is. I think people will understand. What’s the strategy behind these bombings — this enormous bomb being dropped on Afghanistan, a defenseless country — really?
To the imperialists that’s just an experiment lab: Oh, some Muslims and Brown people; let’s drop what’s almost a nuclear weapon. We don’t care who dies. We don’t care who is destroyed. We don’t care who lives around there. They can’t defend themselves. That’s what we do. Let’s bomb Syria.
There’s no deep, intelligent, sophisticated military strategy. It’s terror. It’s like lynching. It’s like raping people. It’s like bombing Baltimore or bombing Harlem, or bombing Standing Rock, or beating up and killing prisoners who are defenseless in prison.
That’s what this is. It’s old. It’s just terror. We will bomb you. They love bombs.
They think that they can get away with this — the Pentagon — not even using troops. Whether they can do that is another question. They’re so high on all their technology. We can press a button — hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away — and we can bomb you. We don’t even have to look at you face-to-face.
It’s a technological, genocidal “bomb everybody” nightmare. I think people can understand. I think they can see the relationship between the war here in this country and the war abroad. I could be wrong, but I think they can see the relationship clearer than at any time before. We shall see and we should try to help them.
Defend People’s Korea
Now, the threats against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. [To] be sure, the DPRK, that’s another matter. That’s different than Afghanistan or Syria. This is more serious. This is toying around with a war with China. This is toying around with a war that will engulf not only all of Korea, what they call the entire Korean Peninsula, but all of Asia, which would mean the entire world, even a nuclear war.
You can’t just attack our comrades in the DPRK. They’ve been prepared for this. They’re strong. Not that they’re in a human way stronger than anybody else. It’s just that the situation that they faced for 60 years has made them tough in order to survive. Imperialism has tried to starve them. It has never even declared that the war is over. It wants to destroy them so [imperialism] can take it back. So the people of the DPRK, their government, their army, they had to be real tough.
There are so many imperialist news people in the DPRK now, probably more than ever before. They let them in because they want them to see things, and there is this 24-hour cable network so they have to fill it. That’s why the [cable networks] say a lot of stupid stuff, in addition to repeating themselves.
They have so much time that they actually let something through, some coverage of the DPRK through that I thought was very telling. It says a lot about the revolution and about the people of Korea.
They interviewed some people in front of a housing project in Pyongyang that they were opening up. It was a huge housing project, just hundreds of new homes, apartment houses. The spokesperson that spoke to — I think it was CNN — said, “See these houses? This is a thousand times more important than bombs.” The inference being, you make us spend money on bombs; you make us spend money defending ourselves because you want to destroy us.
If we had it our way we would just do this. We would build more houses. We would build more day care centers, more schools. Life would be great for everybody, not just Pyongyang. But you force us, you force us to do this. OK, you attack us. We are ready to defend ourselves. We have to defend the right of the Korean people to defend themselves with any weapons they have, by any means necessary.
They are not foolish. When Col. [Muammar] Gadhafi [in Libya] tried to make a concession to the imperialists and stop his nuclear program, you see what happened to him — they lynched him in the street. Same with Saddam Hussein. This is because imperialism does not want any countries — not Russia, not China and certainly not Iran, certainly not smaller countries — having anything to defend themselves with, so the [imperialists] can just rule the earth by their military.
Now we don’t know if there’s going to be an attack. A lot of it seems like saber-rattling, sending those ships over there carrying out those exercises. We know all the missiles that they have in South Korea. There was a demonstration against them, the THAAD [Terminal High Altitude Area Defense]. The South Korean people are for the U.S. getting the hell out. They would love that. They get arrested and beaten up by the cops fighting for the U.S. to get out. You make our peninsula more dangerous. Please leave.
But here’s the thing we have to bear in mind, comrades and friends. When you start saber-rattling, regardless of your objective — you may just want to be sending messages and scaring people — there could be a miscalculation, and the shit could start and the war could get on.
While I don’t know, and I’m not predicting that that’s going to happen any time soon, the Party has to be ready and all anti-imperialists have to be ready. If the war starts, we’ve got to be out in the streets shutting shit down. We’ve got to do that in relationship to any war, to any war. But this one, this is a big war. This is more akin to what some people used to call World War III.
We’ve got to get out in the streets. We’ve got to pull others out in the street. We’ve got to make this anti-Trump movement — in addition to everybody else, the usual anti-war, anti-imperialist forces — we’ve got to bring them out. We’ve got to do stuff that makes a difference.
Trump’s ‘new advisors’
A lot of people are asking themselves, “Why did Trump change his racist, neofascist program?” The contradiction in it was that he was giving some BS anti-war message. He literally said it, “If you vote for [Hillary] Clinton, she’ll bring World War III.” He was talking about her wanting to be belligerent with Russia. And now look what’s happening.
The obvious reason: The ruling class forced him to do it. That’s what I see. That’s a big part of it. They forced him to do it because the majority of the ruling class — Democratic and Republican Party — are neocons, or what some call globalists. In other words, they are — and have been for some time — for the U.S. using its military to maintain empire, and for making sure that no country can defend itself against the U.S. empire.
Some of them are more aggressive. Some of them are more tactical. Obama may be more tactical: I will just bomb a lot of people with drone strikes. Clinton, probably a little further in terms of the aggression. This is the majority of the ruling class.
Sooner or later Trump was going to have to give in. They had — pardon the joke — a Trump card. That was Russia. They use this “Russia rigged the elections” and all these hearings and all these investigations as a threat over his head. Some of them want to take him down and take him out, impeach him, maybe even jail him.
It became very clear [to Trump]: I gotta push this neofascist Steve Bannon aside, and I gotta embrace the neocons, the generals and the Wall Street bankers.
Basically, his government is made up of Exxon, generals and people from Wall Street. It’s a coup. It’s so naked. It’s so obvious. He’s got to embrace them.
There are other reasons. We could speculate on him wanting to look tough. Bombs always make you look tough.
I’m thinking maybe one of his economic advisors — what is his new economic advisor? I think his name is Gary Cohn. He’s from Goldman Sachs. I wonder if he didn’t pull Trump aside and say: I gotta talk to you. You know this promise about bringing jobs back? That’s not going to happen, that’s not going to happen. That’s not the way capitalism works. It seeks the cheapest labor to exploit. You can cut taxes for the rich. We’re all for that. You can deregulate everything: Wall Street, health, the environment, make it unsafe for workers and everybody to drink water. You can, you can turn the country into the Global South — in other words, every place a right-to-work, union-busting place — but that’s not gonna bring those jobs back, because that ship has sailed. Here’s the big message, president: You can’t fix capitalism. You’ve been promising you can fix it, but it’s not going to happen, so you better think about something else.
A lot of times when imperialists can’t fix the economy, what do they do? They go to war.
Revolution, not bombs
About two months ago, I think it was, the Party put on its paper’s front page a call for a global general strike. The questions began being asked: Who are they that they would call for such a thing, or even suggest it? We are Workers World Party, this is our name.
As unrealistic as [a global strike] may be, I think we should watch May Day 2017, not just in this country but around the world. It may be more interesting in terms of class struggle than at other times. We shall see.
Whether a global strike is realistic or not, we asked people to think about it because we wanted to make a couple of points. I’m not going to go into all of them, but I am going to raise a couple of them.
One of them is this. We have to raise all the demands: Stop busting unions; double the minimum wage; making a universal minimum wage; and so forth. But we also have to — if we’re honest with people, if we want to tell people the truth — we have to tell them that we’ve got to overthrow capitalism and we’ve got to replace it with socialism.
Even though the immediate demands that people have may be what we’re demonstrating around tomorrow and next week, the need to overthrow capitalism and replace it with socialism can’t be so far back in our minds, in our consciousness, that it’s meaningless. The people of the world, all life, all life is in trouble as long as capitalism exists. It’s getting worse. The entire planet is in trouble. We don’t know how much time we have.
The generation coming up, we can’t tell them: You’re going to have to live under capitalism, we did, good luck. I don’t think they’ll buy that. They’re smarter. They go on the internet. They read everything. They can tell us stuff we don’t know, us veterans. It’s the truth.
If we want to influence them, if we want to win their allegiance, if we want to try to mold them into a vanguard, into a fighting force that can help this revolution, we better tell them we’re for revolution. We are for getting rid of capitalism and replacing it, the sooner the better. Whenever that is.The sooner the better, and it’s got to be a desire that’s burning in our heart. You want to get rid of this imperialist war, the threat of nuclear weapons, the horror of this giant bomb dropping on the people of Afghanistan? You’ve got to get rid of capitalism and imperialism.
We had some other ideas, too. One was to at least put a picture in people’s minds of the possible strength of a global general strike. I mean, imagine if that happened. Imagine if one May Day — or any day — there was a global general strike. Not just people who work or people who are fortunate enough to still have a union — wherever they are, whatever continent they are on — but everybody just shutting shit down on every continent, billions of people.
That’s important to us because that’s our preferred definition or circumstances for the class struggle, not bombs. Some countries have bombs. Syria tries to defend itself. The DPRK can do it a little better. Russia can do it a whole lot better. Maybe even some liberation movements have bombs, and if they have to use them, we say we defend that right, but that’s not our preferred way to prosecute the struggle. We want the masses to come out. It’s bombs versus social revolution. It’s reduced to that.
We don’t want the imperialists to be so high on using their bombs that they think they can scare us. When I came in, one of the comrades made a joke to me. He said, where’s the shelter? Some of us who go back to the 1950s and the early 1960s, you see these drills in school where you went under your chair.
We don’t want to be worrying about bombs. We want to be about getting the masses in the street on a mass basis and shutting shit down, so the masses can feel their power and see one day that they can occupy, and they can seize, and they can make revolution, and they can take over things, and they can end capitalism. That’s our bomb. Call it a people’s bomb. Call it a working-class and oppressed bomb. Call it whatever you want.
On May Day, stand with workers and oppressed
The other thing that we talked about in our call is the need to defend the most oppressed that Trump has targeted, no surprise: the Black Lives Matter movement, women — they just signed something where states are defunding Planned Parenthood. I think some of this war stuff is to draw attention away from that. Otherwise, there might be rebellions in the street. This is an attack on women.
So many other attacks. I think Trump’s even threatening to withhold Medicaid reimbursements to hospitals and to states, which means that if you have no money and you’re sick — and they treat you very bad if you’re poor — they won’t let you in at all. This is really reactionary. I know some of the Democratic politicians are talking about it, but I don’t see them doing much about it except getting ready to try to win elections two years from now.
I want to talk about migrant workers because the migrant workers are trying, they’re trying to have a strike on May Day 2017 in this country. They’re trying in a big way, they’re trying in an unprecedented way, they’re trying to repeat what they did in 2006, that tremendous strike against the Sensenbrenner bill when they shut down parts of this economy. They’re trying under very difficult circumstances, even more than 11 years ago: the fear of being fired, of being arrested, the fear of intimidation and harassment, of being deported.
Look what they’re doing. The attorney general, [Jeff] Sessions, was just down at the border making threats. We’re going to arrest everybody, just like the sister [Ariella Riapos] said. We’re not asking questions no more. We don’t care. We’re arresting everybody. We’re hiring 15,000 more border guards and ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] cops. We’re setting up concentration camps all over the country to hold people.
Under Obama, they established an office to regulate the way that immigrants were treated. It was a fig leaf. It was a cover for the deportations, but he based it on something: Well, these are not really criminals and so we shouldn’t be putting them in solitary, we should take care that their food’s OK. We should take care that we’re not breaking up families and some things like that.
That office was just closed. We will treat you like you are in Attica [Prison in western New York]. We are criminalizing you. We always had criminalized you, but now it’s official.
These workers are trying to fight back and it’s important that we do everything we can to help them.
Now there’ll be mass May Day rallies around the country. I’m not going to go through them. I’m familiar with many of them. We’re going to have a big May Day rally here in New York, with our comrades from BAYAN and from the International League of Peoples Struggle and other groups. We’re mobilizing for Union Square. It’s going to be big. Many immigrants are going to be there. Many anti-imperialist activists are going to be there. Hopefully many ordinary workers will be there.
We’re building that strong, but we shouldn’t forget what other workers are trying to do. They’re trying to go on strike and they are under the gun and they need help.
This Tuesday, April 18, Workers World Party is calling people to come to a press conference in front of 26 Federal Plaza, which is where the regional ICE office is, on the Broadway side, twelve o’clock.
We’re calling people to come there to demand that there be no reprisals against workers who participate in the strike on May Day. No reprisals! Our message to all the bosses — some of whom fired workers after the Feb. 15 strike. We’re also telling ICE we will respond in any way we can to repercussions from the government or from bosses.
It may be that most of our work in terms of defending these rights will begin after May Day, because that’s when the firings and the repression will come. We should get ready. We’re not the only ones doing that. People all over the country are forming defense committees.
We felt that because this attack on immigrant workers is really an attempt to smash working-class solidarity, maybe it was time that an organization called Workers World Party said that it was going to try to organize some workers, however symbolic the numbers may be, to come out and say, “We are workers defending other workers.”
That’s an important political point to make. We intend for that point to get bigger and bigger and bigger.
Comrades, this May Day strike is so important to us for historic reasons. I mean these workers want to strike not just on any day. They will be striking on any day. They struck on February 15. I think some of the organizers are planning a week of strikes. We’ll find out more about that. [But] they’re striking on International Workers Day. That’s a high level of consciousness. That’s a communist holiday that’s known all over the world but beaten back and suppressed here. The immigrant workers have brought it back. They brought it back in 2006 and they’re bringing it back again.
I hope that other workers are paying attention, because they can learn from these immigrant workers. These immigrant workers are the most class-conscious and the most militant sections of our class. The truth is, one of the reasons why the government wants to crush them, and wants to scare them and terrorize them, is because they know that they are one of the most militant sections of our class, and they don’t want that militancy spreading. It’s a danger to the ruling class. It’s a danger to capitalism. This is true.
There’s more than solidarity involved here. But solidarity has always meant doing something that’s in your own interest.
We will not allow the government or bosses to come down on the most militant section of our class, one of the most militant sections at the very least. Know why? We need them. The entire working class needs them and that’s a fact.
We understand the historical importance of it, especially in this country. One of the founding documents of this Party — this was before we even founded the Party — Sam Marcy, our late founder and leader, wrote this document in the early 1950s, “The Global Class War.” It says many good things.
I’ll tell you what the most important and relevant tenet of it is today. The struggle has mostly been in the east amongst the oppressed in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America, the liberation movements. But the time will come, based on capitalist development, when that struggle will shift to where, generally speaking, the workers have not been as class conscious, have not been as politically conscious, have not been, as a whole, revolutionary. But that will change, and that revolutionary class consciousness will shift to the centers of imperialism. That was the most important, relevant thing that that “Global Class War” document said. We see it happening. This strike on May Day is that prediction in some ways coming true.
The great revolutionary comrade Che Guevara was martyred 50 years ago.
Another thing happened 50 years ago today, actually today. The Cubans published a message from Che for an anti-imperialist conference in January 1966 in Havana. (tinyurl.com/CheToTricontinental). It was called the Tricontinental Conference — meaning Asia, Latin America and Africa — of hundreds of anti-imperialist fighters.
His message basically said that if we want to give — I’m paraphrasing, it is a long document with many good points — if we want to give U.S. imperialism a heart attack, we have to have two, three, many Vietnams. We have to begin cutting off [imperialism’s] extremities so they don’t get the blood and they don’t get the oxygen to nourish the imperialist center.
To some extent, that has happened and is still happening. On another level, the way that the capitalist crisis has developed over the past 30 years, that’s another way that’s bringing the heart attack back to the center.
We must dedicate ourselves — now others may disagree with us — we don’t want to in the least bit sound chauvinist — oh, the working class of the multinational, more and more Black and Brown and women and LGBTQ, the working class of this country, is chauvinist, and they think that their role in the world is more important than others. No, no, we’ll have none of that. That’s not the point that we’re making.
We are, however, in the belly of the beast. And we’re conscious of that, and we must remain conscious of that, because what we do has an impact in the class struggle, the anti-imperialist struggle on a worldwide level. The ball is in our court.