The fight against white supremacy & for solidarity in the U.S. South

The Sixth International Assembly of the International League of People’s Struggles took place in Hong Kong June 23-26. Founded in 2001, ILPS is a coalition of more than 200 anti-imperialist mass organizations from around the world that “promotes, supports and develops the struggles of the peoples of the world, including the workers, peasants, women, youth, professionals and other sectors of society against the ideological, political, military, economic, social and cultural domination and attacks of imperialism and reaction.” Loan Tran, who attended as a representative of the International Action Center, spoke at the assembly. Tran’s remarks, slightly edited, are presented below. For more information about ILPS, see ilps.info.

The U.S. South

I would like to focus specifically on the context of the U.S. South, with the understanding that the United States of AmeriKKKa is a prison house of nations. The whole of the U.S. is stolen and colonized Indigenous land. The South in particular was where the land was then toiled and developed for ruling-class profit by stolen, enslaved Africans at the start of the 17th century and Black sharecroppers by the mid-19th century. 

Today, Black workers, along with more and more migrant workers from Latin America and the Caribbean, make up a significant portion of the labor force in the South as low-wage farm workers, fast food workers, domestic workers, city workers and incarcerated workers — whom we can also consider as part of what has developed as “surplus labor.”

It should come as no surprise that the South is the least unionized region of the country, where most states have made unionizing illegal. Still, many workers are able to organize through workers’ assemblies — such as the Southern Workers Assembly — and “social unions” in order to lift up demands for workers and oppressed people.

The South is also home to at least one-third of the population of LGBTQ people in the country, a majority of whom are also Black, Brown and Indigenous. LGBTQ people of color and LGBTQ workers face additional layers of challenges, not just in the workplace — if we are able to find work — but also within the movement, where marginalization of LGBTQ people often continues. That indicates the continued need to update whom we see as the “working class.”

In 2016, in North Carolina, a state law was passed criminalizing transgender people’s ability to access public facilities. The law also included preemptive measures preventing local city governments from setting minimum wage standards for contract workers; the law also made the process more difficult for workers to file lawsuits charging discrimination, without having to take it to the state level. The marrying of transphobia and homophobia to the attacks on labor and workers’ rights is a classic divide-and-conquer strategy. We saw this strategy duplicated in states across the South in the months that followed.  

We often find the South characterized as inherently backwards, but on a very subjective basis. The material reality facing workers and oppressed people in the South includes public institutions that have been severely disinvested in, leaving working-class communities with little or no access to education, job programs, health care and more. 

Racism and reactionary movements didn’t originate in the South because workers and oppressed people are less educated or inherently bigots; racism and reactionary movements get seeded in the South because it is an effective staging and containment ground for the ruling class in the U.S. and around the globe.

North Carolina, for example, is home to Fort Bragg, one of the largest military bases in the world. All along the southern coast, working people live with military bases right in their backyards and are surrounded by military propaganda and recruitment efforts that largely target poor, working-class Black and Brown people. 

The military is presented as a viable option for economic security when the reality is that we have young people — new workers — who are left with very few options. The capitalist ruling class is then either building an army of surplus labor by holding oppressed people in cages or is building a literal army of surplus labor tasked with bombing and killing people in the Global South. It is often both.

It would be remiss of me not to speak briefly to the questions surrounding white workers and the growing debate within the revolutionary movement regarding whether or not any revolutionary potential exists in the U.S. The argument is often made that, no, this is not possible because all workers in the U.S. are settlers. At a very preliminary starting point, I want to argue that we must question this, considering Indigenous people are still fighting for their land, more and more people from the Global South are being forced north by U.S. imperialism, and Black people continue to be subject to slave-like conditions in the U.S.

This is just one of many contradictions that exist for the working-class movement in the U.S., and we must continue to seek out the best line that allows more class solidarity within the U.S. and with anti-imperialist struggles across the globe. 

As materialists, we are tasked with organizing within the conditions as they exist. A key feature of the struggle in the U.S. is that we are contending with a multinational working class whose histories have developed side by side and often been a target of divide-and-conquer strategies — separating white workers from Black and migrant workers, and so on. There is much work to be done to clarify the common enemy and to build the organizing skills of the oppressed masses in order for there to be a movement capable of defeating racism and winning socialism.

The struggle against white supremacy

With this context in mind, the struggle against white supremacy is central to the class struggle being waged by workers and the oppressed in the U.S. It’s not just that one cannot happen without the other; it’s that, especially in the case of the U.S., these struggles are one and the same.

There are some concrete examples from recent years I would like to lift up. I would like to make a nod to the fervent efforts throughout the 1930s into the 1960s and 1970s, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power Movement, where communists, and Black communists in particular, were waging revolutionary struggle to build unions, Black-white worker solidarity, and of course beating back racist segregation efforts, confronting the Ku Klux Klan and police alike — who were and are merely evolutions of slave patrols.

In 2016, following the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, a 43-year-old Black father in Charlotte, N.C. — the masses poured into the streets under the banner of Black Lives Matter — which really took off with the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014. 

Charlotte is the third-largest banking city in the U.S., behind New York and San Francisco. It is home to headquarters for major banks like Bank of America and Wells Fargo, which in the 1980s and ‘90s made most of their  money off predatory mortgages to Black homebuyers. Charlotte is often called the “Wall Street of the South.”

When the masses poured into the streets for Keith Lamont Scott, Charlotte became the first southern city where a major rebellion against police terror took place. This in and of itself is significant. What makes it even more significant is that these demonstrations took place for weeks in the heart of downtown, in front of the banks and corporations that fortify the inherent relationship between white supremacy and finance capital. 

Demonstrators took to fighting the police directly, despite the cops’ expensive military-grade equipment, and destroyed bourgeois private property of the banks and hotels. It became clear — when the National Guard was called into North Carolina and directed to protect buildings by beating protesters and even killing another Black man, Justin Carr — just how effective a tool white supremacy is for capitalist interests.

One year later in 2017, following the election of the racist, misogynist, fascist pig Trump, hundreds of neo-Nazis and white supremacists descended on Charlottesville, Va., in an alleged effort to defend the statue of Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate States Army during the Civil War; a war not about states’ rights — as often told in bourgeois history — but a war of Southern Confederate states to defend their right to own slaves. Even deeper than that, it was a war between the competing interests of the slave-owning ruling class and the increasingly finance-backed and -industrialized ruling class. 

Students from the university as well as organizers and activists from across the region showed up in Charlottesville to confront these racists. As some may know, the daylong clashes between anti-racist demonstrators and Klan members left one woman, Heather Heyer, dead from a car that ran into the crowd, along with many, many others who were brutally injured and hurt by Klan members and cops alike.

Two days later in Durham, N.C., in solidarity with Charlottesville, our comrades organized a demonstration in front of a Confederate monument which stood in front of the old courthouse. The monument was erected in 1924 — a period in which the Black community of Durham, much like in other cities across the country, such as Kansas City, had made significant economic and cultural advances. 

The Confederate monument stood in front of the building that many Black people have to walk by each day. It stood as a message that they were not welcome there and that despite their successes in that town, white supremacy was still law and only white people would be allowed to benefit from capitalism.

In a tremendous show of people power, that Confederate monument was literally toppled in 2017 as hundreds chanted, “You can’t stop the revolution!”

The days and weeks that followed the monument toppling saw statues being torn down, removed, defaced and vandalized across the South — from Baltimore to New Orleans.

In response to this revolutionary wave across the region, the KKK openly called for a demonstration in Durham, N.C. Their numbers were small compared to the thousands of oppressed people who came out into the streets to confront them, while they were sheltered by the local police in the courthouse building.

We knew that this struggle was never just about statues: It was about using white supremacy as a tool for bourgeois-class rule. It was never about cheap pieces of metal or copper, it was about underscoring that there is a class which benefits from the exploitation, degradation and murder of another class. And to be clear, the class that benefits is very much the class founded by white, slave-owning men. The class that is exploited is very much made up of nationally oppressed workers.

We should consider the concentration camps at the U.S.-Mexico “border” a monument to white supremacy. We should consider the same of the prisons, of dilapidated public housing, of deadly manufacturing companies, of underfunded schools, of outdated and unkept public infrastructure from roads to the water pipes in Flint, Mich., for example. There Black communities are going on five years without clean drinking water. These are precisely the conditions needed to ensure that oppressed people do not rise up.

Those of us with alleged participation in the toppling of the monument in Durham waged a staunch campaign asserting that “fighting white supremacy is not a crime,” as we faced felony charges for this necessary action. We organized a People’s Tribunal Against White Supremacy where community members were able to testify about the real crimes taking place; attacks on workers, attacks on Black people, attacks on migrants, attacks on affordable housing, attacks on public education, and more.

So much of white supremacy is codified into the law. In this particular case, there was yet another preemption law that had been passed in 2015 preventing local government from removing Confederate monuments. It had to be approved by the state general assembly.

But just because something is law, clearly, as we know, doesn’t make it real. If anything, it reiterates to us whom the law is made for. Ultimately all the felony charges were dropped, but only because we organized a mass movement that was able to stand up and fight and draw on the decades and centuries of anti-racist organizing in the South against racism and white supremacy. If you break the so-called law, you must have the political cover and solidarity of a mass movement.

There are many challenges, of course, in building this kind of mass movement in the U.S. where more and more labor is atomized. And workers are largely alienated from each other as the result of the capitalist development of technology and an emerging “gig economy.” This muddies the role and responsibility of multinational corporations that are not seen as employers, but as simply service providers — like Uber or Lyft, for example.

There is not a coherent worker identity. Some of this incoherence is a result of a weak, mainstream, bureaucratic labor movement that continues to fall behind on updating its understanding of the working class and the need to integrate key struggles for national and social liberation. Some of this is a result of the deepening capitalist crisis which is quite literally killing people — whether the killers be politicians, police, landlords or bosses.

Building international solidarity

It would be naïve of us to believe that Trump’s administration alone has unleashed a new kind of white supremacy or has introduced this latest stage of capitalist decay. It is important to note, however, that he has encouraged a new level of uncensored white-supremacist violence that can only and will only benefit the capitalist ruling class, which is capable of creating its own laws and rules to serve its interests. 

Trump’s blatantly white-supremacist remarks about im/migrants and Muslims and his blatant misogyny make him a convenient figurehead for the capitalists, who bank on violence against workers and oppressed people for their profit.

Any critique or analysis of Donald Trump as simply stupid or dumb is useless for building a revolutionary movement to resist him. It makes our task more difficult and is rather ahistorical. He is precisely the kind of president who the global conditions of finance capital have produced at this point in time. He is pushing fascist policies and practices, and in the U.S. we are still playing catchup to understand what this means. In large part, his fascist actions are taking root because we still have work to do to strengthen the revolutionary left pole embedded among the masses.

There is a lot more that could be said here but I’ll start wrapping up by asking: How might we resist capitalist and white-supremacist rule and laws? How might we wage a struggle that rejects white-supremacist capitalism ideologically and also in action?

We must continue to push revolutionary class consciousness that resisting white supremacy, fascism and capitalism are not crimes. And that democracy under capitalism is not democracy at all: It is authoritarianism. We must work to expose the role that this kind of authoritarianism plays in puppet governments and dictatorships in oppressed nations around the globe. 

It goes without saying that we see models for this across the globe, right now. Inside the U.S., communities have blockaded ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] vehicles to prevent deportations and are preparing for Trump’s revving up of the deportation machine. Outside the U.S., we see the resistance in Palestine, the Philippines, Sudan, Haiti and beyond. I believe that in the U.S. we have much to learn from our comrades in the Global South and there are some key lessons we share from the center of the empire that would be of use, too.

In order for us to build effective solidarity between the North and the South, it is crucial that we move toward more shared understanding of the role of white supremacy in all of our struggles. There are oppressed nations within the false borders of the U.S. that can play an important and strategic role in resisting empire. 

We must recognize the centrality of the Black struggle, of the Chicano/Chicana struggle, of the Indigenous struggle for sovereignty. Oppressed people within the borders of the empire are also fighting for self-determination, and we must uplift the idea that this self-determination cannot come at the cost of self-determination for oppressed people and nations outside the U.S.

I know that comrades in the U.S. are ready, and very much need, to centralize and internalize the mandates from our comrades in the Global South. One way to do this is to build more unity in the fight against racism — one of capital’s strongest and well-proven tools for advancing the interests of empire.

We cannot leave the task of building international solidarity, of connecting the struggles from inside the imperial core to those resisting imperial violence in the Global South and around the world, to the liberals, to the social democrats, and, in the U.S., to the Democratic party, which is just as much, if not more, of a warmongering party as the Republicans.

It goes without saying that the global capitalist crisis is indeed very local. The manifestations of contradictions among the ruling class and ruling parties themselves can be found in every struggle taking place around the world. 

Our duty as revolutionaries, especially those of us who are inside the belly of the beast, is to take advantage of the disintegration among the ruling class and leverage that in solidarity with the struggles of oppressed people elsewhere. 

As a revolutionary in the U.S., I must reiterate that I see my first and foremost priority as the defeat of the very empire through which my organizing still enjoys relative privileges — at least for the foreseeable future. But as we know, everything changes, and our best bet is to be prepared, build mass and international solidarity and connect the struggles of workers and oppressed people everywhere against the common enemy, the primary contradiction and the biggest threat to all of humanity: U.S. imperialism.  

Yesterday we toppled statues, tomorrow we topple ICE, the Pentagon and the U.S. war machine, the prisons and the concentration camps of the poor around the world. 

(WW photo: Brenda Ryan)

(WW photo: Brenda Ryan)

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