We are losing.
Military and economic policies promoted by the U.S. have forced thousands to flee their homes in the Central American Exodus, with the vast majority fleeing Honduras. This has created massive refugee camps at the U.S. southern border where thousands of refugees are being forced to wait in precarious conditions to apply for asylum to the country responsible for their migration in the first place. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to prop up Honduran dictator Juan Orlando Hernández with political and economic support, enabling the imposition of neoliberal economic policy in Honduras and throughout the region. Last but not least, the Trump administration has instrumentalized the plight of these refugees and has whipped up xenophobic, nationalistic and white supremacist sentiment amongst a section of the U.S. working class. Simultaneously, they continue to militarize the border and conduct mass deportations and family separation of migrants.
As all of this happens there is almost complete silence in the mainstream media about the U.S. military and economic policies that are the root causes of the current series of caravans or migration more generally. Organized and active anti-imperialism in the U.S. continues to be relegated primarily to isolated organizations without a mass base while mass organizations and movements only rarely make anti-imperialist struggle a priority or even a talking point. As of this writing the U.S. is actively attempting to overthrow the government of Venezuela and there is a very real threat of a U.S. backed Coup or this intervention. And this is only the tip of the iceberg with regards to U.S. imperial policies in the western hemisphere and around the world.
This article uses the case of U.S. foreign policy in Honduras and the social movement response to the migrant caravans to make a broader argument about the strategic urgency of bringing anti-imperialism and internationalism into U.S.- based social movements. We believe the argument extends far beyond Honduras and the caravans, with important applications to the ways our movements could relate to other places confronting U.S. Empire, from Palestine and the Middle East, to Southeast Asia, Africa and beyond.
“After studying the Irish question for many years I have come to the conclusion that the decisive blow against the English ruling classes (and it will be decisive for the workers’ movement all over the world) cannot be delivered in England but only in Ireland… Owing to the constantly increasing concentration of leaseholds, Ireland constantly sends her own surplus to the English labour market, and thus forces down wages and lowers the material and moral position of the English working class. And most important of all! Every industrial and commercial centre in England now possesses a working class divided into two hostile camps, English proletarians and Irish proletarians. This antagonism is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organization. It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And the latter is quite aware of this… It is the special task of the Central Council in London to make the English workers realize that for them the national emancipation of Ireland is not a question of abstract justice or humanitarian sentiment but the first condition of their own social emancipation.”Karl Marx, “Letter to Sigfrid Meyer and August Vogt in New York,” April 9th, 1870.
The lack of a cohesive anti-imperial movement has left our movements in isolated silos without an analysis or political formation capable of tying domestic struggles to the global struggle against U.S. Empire. These silos are characteristic of the neoliberal age, particularly in the United States. They are the result of the ruling class’s use of a combination of repression and co-optation in the aftermath of the wave of 60’s and 70’s militancy in order to drive a wedge between explicitly left and anti-imperialist political forces and labor and social movements in this country. This lack of an anti-imperialist framework amongst popular forces and corresponding lack of a grassroots base among most U.S.-based anti-imperialist formations has made the Left unable to shape the narrative or build the necessary power to shift the terrain upon which we are struggling.
The overcoming of this contradiction is not a question merely of ethical principle, but of strategic imperative. It is both necessary and possible to embed anti-imperialism in our work within the Empire to win what Gramsci calls the war of position and ultimately create the conditions necessary to build 21st century socialism. As social movement leftists it is imperative that we work within our organizations, particularly mass based base-building organizations, to incorporate anti-imperialism and internationalism into the way we frame our campaigns and develop our strategy. The strategic importance of doing so can be summarized in three key points:
- Anti-imperialism allows us to re-focus the debate about immigration to its root causes in order to more effectively counter the Right’s appeals to nationalism and xenophobia.
- Anti-imperialism allows our movements to grapple with the transnational nature of capital, forming global strategies that correspond to capital’s own global plans while fostering the international relationships our movements will need at key strategic junctures.
- Anti-imperialism provides our movements opportunities to learn from more advanced struggles around the world.
Anti-imperialism and immigration
We are not losing because the majority of the country supports Trump’s border wall or buys into his white supremacist and xenophobic narrative about immigrants. There is nothing inevitable about the dominance of equally disempowering right wing and liberal narratives about the caravans. The Right’s “invader” narrative and the liberal moralistic and victimizing narrative are both ahistorical. One paints migrants as inherently dangerous. The other paints them as passive victims. Both erase the effects of decades of U.S. military and economic intervention by both Democratic and Republican administrations in Latin America broadly and Honduras in particular as well as the agency of those in the caravans and those left behind in resisting that intervention.
The Right looks at the caravans and sees a threat. Liberals look at the caravan and see victims and charity cases. These narratives play into and reinforce each other. The liberal response easily appears as naïve to the Right, and plays directly into its framing of migrants competing with “Americans” [sic] for limited resources. Meanwhile, these narratives have shaped the terms of debate and left the only policy questions on the table to be how much and in what way to invest in border “security” and how narrow or broad of a segment of refugee seekers and currently undocumented immigrants are entitled to “relief.” The hegemony of these narratives and their corresponding policy implications preserve the power of U.S. Empire to protect the interests of capital at home and abroad and ensure the sidelining of any examination of the U.S. intervention and popular resistance that is the immediate context of the caravan.
Backdrop of the Caravans: U.S.-backed Coups and Fraud in Honduras
It is impossible to understand the caravans that have been leaving Honduras without first examining the U.S. role in the 2009 coup d’etat that ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya Rosales. Zelaya had ended up on the wrong side of the Honduran oligarchy and its backers in the United States. Responding to the Honduran social movements, he had doubled the minimum wage, taken the side of peasants in land struggles, entered into negotiations with sectors of society that had always been cut off from decisions impacting them. When he called for a referendum on whether to let people vote on re-writing the constitution, his enemies decided to draw a line. They launched an all-out media assault on Zelaya, calling him a tool of Hugo Chávez, a communist, accusing him of trying to stay in power forever. A program officer from the International Republican Institute “joked” just three months before the coup at a briefing in Washington, D.C. about the situation that “coups are supposed to be so three decades ago until now.” Then on June 28th, 2009 the Honduran military barged in to the president’s house and took him in his pajamas to a helicopter, flying him first to a U.S. base in Honduras and then on to Costa Rica. Led by Honduran General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez,
trained in the U.S. School of the Americas, they carried out the first coup of the 21st century in Central America. The military and Honduran oligarchy quickly imposed an interim government, undid most of the progressive reforms underway, and passed hundreds of concessions to corporate interests.
To the surprise of the coup’s backers, however, thousands of people around the country spontaneously came out into the streets. Their numbers and the depth of their vision and commitment kept growing during hundreds of days of consecutive protest, with fearless women at the forefront. The movement was unprecedented in Honduras both for its scale and diversity. Members of unions, teachers, peasants, feminists, the LGBT community, indigenous and Garífuna communities all found themselves in the streets together day after day, under the same tear gas clouds, facing the same U.S.-made weapons, rallying behind the same cry – restoration of democracy and the convening of a National Constitutional Assembly to “re-found” Honduras from below. Key moments included:
- The mobilization of hundreds of thousands of people to the Tegucigalpa airport when President Zelaya tried to return to the country, only to have the military shut down the airport, in the process shooting and killing a teenage boy – Isis Obed Murillo – who would become the first of hundreds of martyrs of the Honduran resistance.
- A march across the entire country by Lenca and Garífuna indigenous communities to try to escort President Zelaya back into the country at the Nicaraguan border.
- The mobilization of a million people to surround the Brazilian consulate where President Zelaya took refuge after sneaking back into the country.
At numerous junctures, with Honduras completely isolated diplomatically and facing unrelenting pressure in the streets and at ports, borders and workplaces, it seemed only a matter of time until the coup regime fell and President Zelaya would be reinstated. But the U.S., under the personal leadership of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, acted strategically and decisively to draw the resistance into lengthy negotiations in Costa Rica, to break Honduras’s diplomatic isolation through its lobbying in the Organization of American States (OAS), and to push for swift “elections” in the midst of heavy militarization, a wave of selective assassinations and brutal repression in the streets during ongoing protests. In her memoir, Hillary Clinton bragged openly about her strategy,
“In the subsequent days I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere … We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.”
Those elections led to the installation into power of the National Party, which has ruled Honduras ever since. The initial ruler was Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa. Pepe Lobo’s son is now serving 24 years for conspiring to import cocaine into the United States while his wife was arrested last year for embezzlement of public funds. Lobo was succeeded by current dictator Juan Orlando Hernández in 2013 elections denounced by electoral observers and the Honduran resistance, which participated with Zelaya’s wife as the candidate of the newly formed party LIBRE (Libertad y Refundación – Freedom and Refoundation), as fraudulent. Highlights of the first term of Juan Orlando Hernández (known in Honduras by his initials, JOH), included:
- A major corruption scandal where millions were stolen from the public hospital system via fake pharmaceutical companies selling pills filled with flour to the public hospitals and funneling the money directly to the National Party, leading to the death of thousands who were treated with fake medicine.
- The intensification of land struggles around the country and corresponding increase in assassinations of peasant activists.
- The dramatic upsurge in drug trafficking.
- The 2016 assassination of Honduras’s most prominent activist, indigenous, feminist, socialist, environmentalist visionary organizer Berta Cáceres, by members of the Honduran military and security forces for a private dam corporation, under orders from the dam corporation’s executives and one of the dam’s primary investors – the Atala family, members of the Honduran oligarchy and key backers of both the 2009 coup and subsequent administrations.
As President of the congress under Lobo, JOH had paved the way for his own re-election – which is expressly forbidden in the Honduran constitution – by removing unfavorable Supreme Court justices and stacking the court with National Party loyalists. He further consolidated power as President by stacking all of the major public institutions – including the Supreme Electoral Tribunal – with close personal friends and political allies, as well as creating a Military Police force that responded directly to him, is empowered to carry out police functions, and is outfitted with the military-grade arms and equipment.
All of this was made possible by continued U.S. diplomatic, economic and military support throughout all of the post-coup administrations in Honduras. When news emerged that the military had participated in Berta Cáceres’s assassination, there were renewed calls in Honduras, around the world and within the U.S. to cut off military and police aid to the JOH dictatorship. A bill was even introduced into the U.S. congress calling for an end to security assistance to Honduras until human rights violations and impunity are brought under control, but both Democrats and Republicans have worked to undermine and block it and ensure a continual flow of military and police aid and training to the JOH regime.
2017 electoral fraud and repression: the immediate cause of the caravans
With this backdrop, in 2017 JOH ran for re-election in violation of the Honduran constitution. The resistance movement, calculated that by bringing in the middle class, youth movement and those outraged by the blatant corruption of the dictatorship and forming a broad “Alliance Against the Dictatorship,” they could garner such an overwhelming majority at the polls that even the ballot-box stuffing, vote-buying, intimidation and militarization by the regime wouldn’t be able to steal enough votes to win. The LIBRE party joined with numerous other parties in the alliance, trained an army of observers from its rank and file to be present at every polling station and every table fighting for every vote, and ran noted TV personality and sports caster Salvador Nasralla as the candidate of the Alliance. Their math worked out. Despite widespread evidence of vote buying, heavy militarization and intimidation, and numerous other irregularities, the official vote count had them with an “irreversible lead” of 5% with almost 80% of the vote counted late the night of the elections. Nobody would have known, but one of the magistrates of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal who went rogue and disobeyed orders to keep the vote totals secret and spoke out in the media. Shortly after his remarks, however, the system “went down” and there were days of silence from the electoral tribunal, days during which it was later revealed that the system “crashed” 169 times and somebody erased and reformatted the main hard drives storing the vote data. People had been celebrating around Honduras for three days when suddenly news began reporting that the system had come back online and that the remaining votes had overwhelmingly gone to JOH who had ended up with a slight “victory.”
Once again, the resistance took to the streets. This time, they were consistently met with live ammunition, primarily fired by JOH’s military police. Over 30 people were shot dead. The dictator declared a state of emergency and ordered a military-imposed curfew. Thousands were beaten and gassed. Hundreds were arrested, some of whom are in jail to this day. The resistance nonetheless continued shutting down every highway and road it could in hundreds if not thousands of blockades around the country, some of which went on for months.
In a story all too familiar to the Honduran resistance, however, the U.S. swept in to save the dictator and crush the hopes of the resistance. The OAS and EU had refused to certify the election results, citing widespread irregularities. The OAS was openly calling for new elections. And the U.S. took three decisive actions. First, in the midst of the heaviest days of repression, it re-certified Honduras for “progress in human rights,” a congressionally-imposed condition to aid in place since shortly after the 2009 coup, releasing millions of dollars to the regime. Then U.S. charge-of-affairs (Honduras currently has no U.S. ambassador) Heidi Fulton appeared in a press conference next to Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE, in Spanish) President and ruling party loyalist David Matamoros, declaring that the U.S. had faith in the TSE and in the transparency of the Honduran electoral process. Finally, it lured Alliance candidate Salvador Nasralla to Washington, D.C., and eventually convinced him to join in a “national dialogue,” with the dictator despite vehement opposition from the base of the Alliance Against the Dictatorship.
Birth of Migrant Caravans
After ten years resisting coups, corruption scandals, electoral fraud, and assassinations, many Hondurans lost hope and decided to flee. Migration from Honduras had been steady for many years, with a spike following Hurricane Mitch in 1998. But the number of refugees leaving Honduras skyrocketed ever since the 2009 coup d’etat and has continued to rise steadily since. But the highly visible mass waves of refugees traveling in caravans has become a particularly acute phenomenon just in the year since the late 2017 electoral fraud. An initial caravan starting in Southern Mexico in April 2018 drew predominantly Hondurans, who carried the Honduran flag and chanted “Fuera JOH” (‘out with JOH,’ the battle cry of the resistance in Honduras) as they marched through Mexico. Then in October, word began circulating on social media in Honduras that a caravan would depart from the northern industrial working class city of San Pedro Sula. Journalist Bartolo Fuentes, a member of the Honduran resistance and former LIBRE congressman, who has been accompanying and advocating for Honduran migrants since the late 90’s, expressed support for the idea on social media. His message was that people should stay and fight the dictatorship, but that if they choose to flee, they should know they have human rights to seek safety and should go in groups for safety. Those words were twisted by rightwing Honduran media to accuse him of organizing the caravans. They falsely claimed he was financing people and repeated this over and over in their broadcasts, leading thousands to believe the false claims and turn an initial group of several hundred into several thousand overnight. Fuentes was able to accompany and report on the caravan only as far as Guatemala City, where he was arbitrarily detained. In a later interview with Fox News Radio, he pointed squarely to the U.S. support for the dictatorship as the cause of the caravans:
Let me first talk about the economic situation of the country. We’re a country of 70% poverty, of whom one half is in extreme poverty… These are people with no food, these are people who are trying to pay their rent, who are trying to pay for the basic needs of life, electricity for instance has gone up 700% since the coup d’etat. The basic cost of living has skyrocketed, and so people are forced to leave, they will go where they can to try to find a job. Add to that the situation of insecurity, of violence, of people who live in these conflicted areas… So, with that reality, nothing and no hope, people looked for a way to change the situation and then they had that hope for change stolen from them. That hope ended this last November when people massively went out to the polls, when they went out to vote out a government that has stolen from them healthcare and education, that has plundered, and then electoral fraud was committed, their votes weren’t recognized and they went out to the streets to protest to have their votes recognized, they were shot down in the streets by live ammunition. Over 40 people were shot dead during those protests. It’s a terrible reality. You have this terrible reality and then you have a little bit of hope and you have that snatched away from you, and then that fraud backed up by the United States. That’s why we say that the U.S. is responsible for this migration flow, is responsible for this exodus.—Bartolo Fuentes, Fox News Rundown 11/20/2018
(interpreted by LeftRoots cadre Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle)
The rest of the story most of us are familiar with. The caravan grew to over 7,000 as it traversed Mexico. Throughout, refugees continued to link their plight in interviews directly to the regime of U.S.-backed dictator Juan Orlando Hernandez. Organizing themselves via nightly assemblies, the caravan adopted the name “Central American Exodus” and began issuing demands for better treatment by Mexican authorities and recognition as a humanitarian crisis that should be addressed in accordance with the guidelines of the International Compact on Migration and other international legal instruments protecting the rights of refugees. Members of the caravan that left last October are now in Tijuana at encampments, detained in San Diego, working along the U.S.-Mexico border, some have returned to Honduras for the time being, others have made it on their own across the border, and yet others have initiated asylum claims and found sponsors to be released to. Incredibly, groups of the exodus decided to retrace their steps back to Honduras and to the southern border of Mexico in the case of others to support their fellow Hondurans who have left on a second caravan that departed in January, seeing it as their responsibility to help spread what they learned on their own caravan and facilitate stronger internal organizing amongst this next wave.
Response by the U.S. social movements
Refugees themselves have consistently referenced the coup and dictatorship, chanted “fuera JOH” throughout their journey, hung banners at their encampment in Tijuana that called out JOH for his actions, and spoke out in their press conferences against the Honduran dictatorship, yet there is virtually no mention of this in media coverage. What is even more surprising, perhaps, is that reference to the Honduran dictatorship and U.S. support for it has been overwhelmingly sidelined among social movement and progressive institutional responses to the caravan in the U.S.. A review of dozens of fundraising pages, alerts, blog posts and calls to action regarding the caravan from labor, community and immigrant rights organizations produced only scant reference to the Honduran dictatorship or U.S. support of it. While there are exceptions to this overall silence, including notably the It Takes Roots alliance of alliances, the majority of progressive institutions and movements responding to the caravan have not centered U.S. foreign policy in framing their calls to action. When it is mentioned, it is often in a non-specific way and without any reference to the clearest and most longstanding call from Honduran social movements – for an end to military and police aid to the dictatorship.
This should not be construed to say that the work of these and many other progressive organizations, institutions and individuals to support the Central American Exodus has not been important. Thousands of volunteers, hundreds of thousands of donations, and an outpouring of support in protests, on social media and through educational events have been invaluable contributions to softening the blow of the callous and racist approach of the U.S. government to the asylum seekers at the border. Likewise, responses that link the plight of asylum-seekers to the broader struggle for immigrant rights, against the border wall and border militarization, and against mass deportation are natural and important as well. Indeed, the very survival of millions in this country and in the countries of origin for immigrant families depends on these historic struggles. The argument could be made that achieving some of the policy aims of these struggles is far more feasible than cutting off military aid to the dictator or in any way curtailing U.S. imperialism. It is undoubtedly true that while there have been periods of amnesty under both Republican and Democratic administrations, setbacks to U.S. interventionism around the world have been few and far between for hundreds of years and, in the rare cases they have happened, been mostly due to armed resistance against the occupying forces in the countries of those interventions rather than domestic organizing in opposition.
Meanwhile, it is undeniable that other than perhaps the broad mobilizations against the invasion of Iraq, there has been little sustained mass-based anti-imperialism in the United States since the Vietnam War. While important work has always taken place opposing U.S. intervention around the world, the vast majority of the groups focused on such work on an ongoing basis draw primarily on university campuses to the extent they have any base at all. While there are important exceptions, such as U.S. Labor Against the War, About Face: Veterans Against the War, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, the U.S. Palestinian Community Network, War Resisters League and others, there are relatively few organizations with roots in working class communities and a consistent anti-imperialist frame. Advocacy by networks such as the Honduras Solidarity Network has been able to garner significant support around legislative vehicles like the Berta Cáceres Bill for Human Rights in Honduras, which would cut off all military and police training and aid to the dictatorship until human rights violations and impunity cease, but the lack of a mass base by most network members combined with the scarcity of anti-imperialist work in mass organizations has meant that very few in the U.S. social movements even know it exists.
Root Causes and the War of Position
In We Believe that We Can Win, the LeftRoots strategy advance team identifies working class immigrant communities, specifically those of Latin American origin, as one of the leading forces of an eventual movement capable of finally defeating racial capitalism in the United States. This being the case, fights rooted in the immediate reality of those communities, particularly those that ensure its survival and the growth of its political power and organizational capability are essential, particularly in this period where White Nationalism is on the rise, and in control of at least the White House. But it would be a grave mistake to think that a focus on U.S. imperialism is a distraction from or in any way secondary to those fights. The above history – which repeats with important differences but even more important similarities in the home countries of almost every other immigrant community – makes clear that the primary contradiction that creates immigration in the first place is U.S. imperialism.
In Antonio Gramsci’s prison notebooks he describes advanced capitalist societies in military terms: “There was a proper relation between state and civil society, and when the state trembled a sturdy structure of civil society was once revealed. The state was only an outer ditch, behind which there stood a powerful system of fortresses and earthworks…” His description was meant to explain his concept of the war of position which is to fundamentally battle for hearts and minds at the level of civil society due to its sway on the consciousness of the masses. He was convinced that if we don’t engage at this level even in instances of economic disruption, where the contradictions of capitalism are most exaggerated, our forces won’t be ready to take action and could even swing to the side of authoritarianism and fascism as the working class did in Italy during the 1920s. We see this concept as vitally important to understanding the need to incorporate an anti-imperialist framework.
So what does the U.S. seek in a smaller country like Honduras? Why is it that, if the government professes a desire to stop migration waves from Central America, it continues to implement exactly the policies that provoke them, both economically, militarily and diplomatically? For decades, the ruling class has intentionally combined policies that displace migrants with those that criminalize them in order to produce a more exploitable and precarious workforce and increase their rate of profit. Yet if there is any consistency in the expressed worldview and actions of Donald Trump, it is the desire to stop immigration. Trump’s own war of position through the constant refrain of “build the wall” and moves to secure funding for an expansion of the already existing border wall serve not only to consolidate his white supremacist and extremely anti-immigrant base, but also to keep the focus on the border which strengthens the Right’s “invader” narrative and keeps the focus off how ongoing U.S. policy is provoking immigration. Regardless of the rhetoric, the reality is that capital needs to continue the policies which lead to waves of migration. It needs these policies to replace falling profits with money from extractive economies, it needs them to access exploitable workforces globally and produce more of them domestically, and it needs them to ensure the defeat of left alternatives, particularly in Latin America, that have challenged U.S. hegemony and undermined the narrative of neoliberalism and the end of history. The preservation of U.S. racial capitalism depends on foreign interventions to extract raw materials, drive down wages globally, and preserve U.S. domination.
Where, in this situation, do social movement forces find an opening? Just as Marx outlined in his letters on the “Irish question,” the ruling class has been extraordinarily successful at using the results of its militarized interventions to pit sections of the working class against each other. While it has been largely disproven that immigration actually depresses wages or takes jobs, arguing these statistics in communities ravaged by unemployment has not been extraordinarily successful. Even less successful have been appeals to peoples’ moral conscience. If anything, such liberal appeals confirm to conservatives what they are told by their party leaders – that “the Left” wants them to care about “others” over their own “self-interest.”
The only option to turn competing sections of the working class, particularly leading forces that are often pitted against each other, against their common enemy is to address the actions of that enemy head on. The case of Honduras is a particularly compelling opportunity to accomplish this. The dictator JOH’s brother was just arrested by the D.E.A. and is being charged as being a leading drug kingpin and importer of cocaine into the United States. A witness in Chapo Guzmán’s trial just pointed to the Honduran army as the source of high caliber weaponry for the Sinaloa cartel. And yet the United States continues to send hundreds of millions of tax-payer dollars to that very dictator. Ensuring that communities understand U.S. intervention in Honduras as the real cause of the caravans, simultaneously turns anger back where it belongs and humanizes the plight of members of the exodus. Further, it provides a material basis for solidarity and a direct point of connection between struggles.
Concretely, labor and community movements can frame local and workplace struggles in terms of a competition between funding communities and workers or funding interventions and dictators. Immigrant rights struggles can center the causes of the caravan in the framing of responses to the caravan and other policies affecting asylum seekers. And explicitly anti-imperialist organizations need to do the work of base building, centering the leadership of those impacted by militarism in their organizations and connecting and taking leadership from local base-building organizations to fuse their opposition to U.S. intervention with the communities most impacted domestically by those interventions. The combined results of these strategies will help to win the war of position, undermine the Trump narrative about the caravan, highlight the agency of the asylum-seekers, and create the basis for a broad perception of unity of interest in opposition to U.S. policy
Global strategies to confront transnational capital
While this article’s primary focus is the way in which anti-imperialist work and framing can help win the war of position against the Right, internationalism is equally important to any winning strategy because of the nature of global capital. Many of the enemies our movements confront, whether they are real estate developers or employers or prison profiteers, are transnational entities or at a bare minimum receive significant international investment. Those we confront meet regularly whether at the World Economic Forum in Davos or in the halls and offices of the IMF and World Bank to advance an international strategy to open markets and increase profits for corporations. Our movements must also be global in scope and vision if we are to counter them effectively. This doesn’t just mean symbolic global days of action or counter-protests at summits. It also means building international relationships that can be leveraged at key moments of struggle. When Canada was attempting to privatize its postal service, Palestinian activists reciprocated the longstanding principled Palestinian solidarity of the Canadian postal workers union and picketed Stephen Harper on his visit to the West Bank. When UFCW workers in Pennsylvania were at a standstill with Brazilian-based meat industry giant JBS, Brazilian workers threatened to strike at its headquarters and pushed the company back to the bargaining table with U.S. workers. These are just two small examples that point to the potential of true internationalism and global strategies to advance local struggles.
Anti-imperialism and learning from other movements
Finally, one of the most important reasons our movements desperately need to grow our internationalist and anti-imperialist work and relationships is so that we can learn from advanced struggles around the world. It was after the visit of an organizer from South Africa’s Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign that Chicago tenants began putting up eviction blockades and occupying foreclosed homes. Most of the young organizers who led and won the campaign for a trauma center on Chicago’s south side visited Honduras and had a chance to exchange with and learn from key figures in the Honduran resistance.
A powerful example of an anti-colonial movement where taking leadership from those directly feeling the effects of U.S. empire has provided a clear strategy to solidarity forces in the U.S. (and around the world) is the Palestinian Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions (BDS) Movement. The Palestinian call for international solidarity activists around the world to engage in BDS tactics targeting Israeli and international institutions engaged in oppression of the Palestinian people was released in July 2005. Palestinian civil society representatives who came together to craft the BDS call name their own study of international anti-colonial and anti-racist movements, particularly the South African anti-apartheid movement and the U.S. Southern Freedom (Civil Rights) Movement as one of the key inspirations for the BDS call. Prior to the BDS movement solidarity activists in the U.S. worked without a cohesive strategy. Much of the work was educational without clear demands or extremely difficult lobbying members of two parties absolutely committed to ongoing Israeli colonization in Palestine.
Over the past 14 years more and more solidarity organizations have recognized the value of this strategic call from Palestine and shifted to prioritize BDS tactics and many new national and local formations have coalesced around the world to specifically advance these tactics. The strategic orientation of BDS and the growing movement have led to concrete victories; French corporate giant Veolia lost billions of dollars in contracts around the world before being forced to withdraw from an Israeli rail project, G4S the largest security corporation on the planet was forced to sell off nearly all its holdings in Israel, among many other smaller victories. In the U.S. BDS has helped grow the Palestine solidarity movement into one of the most organized single-country solidarity movements and concretely shift the landscape. Palestine is also beginning to be a wedge within the democratic party. Two newly elected progressive congresspeople, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib are openly supportive of the BDS movement. While BDS has yet to be adopted in a major way as a solidarity strategy by organizations base-building within low income communities of color in the U.S. the strong alliance with the Movement for Black Lives and the beginnings of working relationships within the labor movement where a number of union locals, as well as United Electrical nationally, have had members vote to endorse the BDS movement demonstrate promising signs of future alliances.
The growth of BDS has been important not just as an advance toward the eventual liberation of Palestine, but also for ways it has resonated with other divestment efforts in the U.S., in movements targeting the Prison Industrial Complex, fossil fuels industry and beyond.
BDS is one powerful example of how when social movements in the U.S. take leadership from countries and communities impacted by U.S. imperialism and act in coordination with them it can give us more clarity and unity for both fights domestically and abroad.
The vast power of U.S. empire and the many military, political, and economic structures that support it is intimidating and often seen as a monolith beyond our ability to impact it. But if we are going to win 21st century socialism, we have to take U.S. Empire head on. We have to expose the many and deep contradictions that enable nearly 700 overseas bases and military operations in 134 countries. And that will not be possible with framing and action that is limited to domestic struggles, nor with international solidarity that lacks a mass base. Capital produces its own contradictions, but if we don’t correctly identify them and seize the opportunity to turn cracks in the system into valleys, we risk losing a historic opportunity to capitalize on growing socialist energy and turn the tide of decades of waning power for the Left.