Building broad anti-racist, anti-fascist resistance in the US today is imperative, write Iannis Delatolas and Clare Lemlich
The horrors of the Trump era seem to have no end. Family separations at the border, kids having to appear and defend themselves in front of judges, thousands of refugees and immigrants locked up in concentration camps in conditions not fit for human beings. Deaths due to malnutrition, lack of medication and medical care. Johana Medina Leon, a trans woman died last summer at an ICE detention center due to lack of healthcare. She was the second trans woman to die in ICE custody, but according to people on the ground, many others have gone unreported. Thousands of immigrant children say they have been sexually abused in detention centers.
Those detained are refugees escaping counties thrown into instability and violence due to US imperialism and intervention, such as Honduras under the watch of Obama and then Trump. Thousands are seeking refuge after escaping failing crops due to the lack of rainfall caused by climate change — the US being the world’s largest contributor to this crisis.
Mainstream racism feeds the far right
Trump closing the border and his administration’s barbaric reversal of the right to seek asylum virtually realizes the far right’s agenda and comes close to the dreams of neo-Nazis. It is well known that Trump has openly sided with the far right on several occasions. As the White House has given tacit support to the far right, we have seen an alarming rise in hate crimes and the number of hate groups in the US has reached over 1,020. All of this paves the way for the real fascists to gain more power. This is an extremely important and dangerous situation.
When Trump supporters chanted “build the wall” during the election, it was laying the groundwork for the fascists, who had, until recently, operated at the margins of the US political life. Trump has built on the racist, nationalist, and oppressive tenancies already present in US capitalism. He has horrifically increased the deadly and oppressive treatment of refugees and migrants to this country.
But, despite his authoritarian tendencies, that does not mean that Trump himself is a fascist. We are not living under a fascist system. The ruling class has not reached such a crisis that it has turned to fascists to manage the system for them. Nevertheless, the political climate Trump has created paves the way for a stronger fascist movement, but the outcome of all this depends on how anti-racists and anti-fascists and the left in general respond going forward.
Working class resistance
We must not lose sight that the Trump era has also been characterized by fightbacks and resistance. Teachers’ unions have won victories in one state after the other, including in “Trump country” and other traditionally “red states,” galvanizing attention across the US. Now Chicago teachers are threatening to strike if their demands are not met.
We are also seeing this resistance in the ongoing United Auto Workers strike, which is part of the recent upsurge in workers’ self-activity expanding into the private sector. In his campaign Trump used nationalism and empty promises, tied especially to anti-Mexican racism, to win a razor-thin majority in the midwest, including winning votes from a minority of auto workers in those states. Now many are seeing through Trump’s ruse.
Working people are black, brown, immigrant, and Muslim. The working class is diverse, which means it has a real and immediate interest in fighting racism. Some working people certainly accept the racism created at the top by people like Trump, but this is counter to workers’ actual interests. The rulers have a vested interest in trying to divide us. They will use racism, and even fascist street thugs, to divide us. They will attempt to destroy union and working class resistance — if we let them.
Capitalism, labor and border control
The discussion around immigration, racism, and the spread of right wing ideas is often reduced to a question of ignorance or an irrational hatred toward foreigners. But it is important to understand the function of racism and borders under capitalism. Controlling migration serves an important ideological purpose: if working people accept racist ideas, it binds us to our own ruling class — the very people who are defunding our schools, keeping our wages low, forcing us to pay spiraling healthcare premiums, and so on. Accepting anti-immigrant racism prevents us from extending solidarity to people overseas and makes it impossible to build international resistance to capitalism. Every working person in the US has more in common with the Mexican auto worker, the Chinese iPhone maker, and the Afghan refugee than with our own ruling class.
The ruling class is not opposed to immigration in general, but rather uses borders to shape and control the flow of labor into the US. Capitalism needs immigrants as a source of cheap labor and many employers rely on exploiting the vulnerability of undocumented workers. Agriculture and other sections of the economy — across the country, not just in the border states — would collapse without undocumented immigrants. From Manhattan restaurants to midwestern food processing to Oregon grape-picking to Florida construction industries rely on immigrant labor. Yet at the same time, Trump’s ICE agents arrest, detain, and deport workers in an effort to instill fear and control immigrants.
Immigration controls are racist. The vast majority of people targeted by ICE are Latinx and Black. The Muslim Ban is an obvious recent example, but racism has been at the core US of immigration policy control since before the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and before. Racist border control is also a bipartisan issue, with Republicans and Democrats alike using different methods to exclude, detain, abuse, and deport.
The human cost of borders
Thousands of people trying to cross into the US have been dying in the desert long before Trump’s wall. The legislation that sealed the border near places like San Diego and south Texas went into effect in 1995 under Bill Clinton. These were major crossing points near urban centers. “Operation Gatekeeper”, “Operation Safeguard” and “Operation Hold The Line” were conscious policies where everyone involved in drafting these knew all too well that forcing immigrants to cross through the desert in remote places would cause thousands of deaths due to extreme heat and dehydration.
Today these kinds of “deterrence” policies are used all over the world. They do not stop people from crossing borders when they want or need to, they just make migration more dangerous. The number of deaths as a result in the US is unclear, but is estimated in the tens of thousands.
Similar horrors are created by the “Fortress Europe” strategies of the European Union and Frontex (The European Border and Coast Guard Agency), where immigrants are left to drown while crossing the Aegean and Mediterranean seas. This year alone 1,071 migrants have drowned trying to get to Europe. In Australia the government uses inhumane detention camps in the Pacific to deter refugees from seeking asylum there.
These kinds of closed borders, racist policies and the nationalist scapegoating necessary to win support for such measures, have played into the hands of the racist right and embolden fascists across the world. In Europe parties with fascist histories, members and allies have won electoral victories over the last few years, but broad anti-racist and anti-fascist campaigns have beat them back in many places. This is a lesson for us in the US.
Despite the nightmare we are living through, we also live in a country were the majority of people are anti-racists, or can be won to anti-racist positions. In a recent poll 65% said they were against the family separations. Most people in the US are horrified by the concentration camps and the rise of fascism and the far right.
This is reflected to varying degrees in demonstrations against Trump since his inauguration. When Trump imposed the Muslim Ban, in a show of tremendous solidarity, thousands of people went to the airports to protest and demand those detained by ICE officers be released. We saw the possibilities for anti-racist, anti-fascist movements in the days after the murder of Heather Heyer in Chartlotsville, when 50,000 took to the streets of Boston (and thousands in other cities) to say “no to hate,” while Trump tried to normalize the fascism by claiming that there were “bad people on both sides.”
We need a mass movement
The rise of Trump, racism and the far right pose an ongoing threat to millions of people. This impacts some more than others and it is the responsibility of those less targeted to stand with immigrants. But Trump’s racism is also an attack on every working person if it successfully prevents us from uniting against him and the rest of the billionaire class. What they do to immigrants is what they would do to local born people and citizens if they could get away with it. We need to strengthen all the movements against the horrors of our time, including against racist policies and rhetoric coming from the top of society, as well as from the emboldened far right and fascist groups.
In Marx21 we believe that the fight against racism and fascism are deeply intertwined. Our members have been centrally involved in efforts like United Against Racism and Fascism in New York, as well as immigrant rights movements. In Southern California, our members work in immigrant rights coalitions, including the Coalition to Close the Concentration Camps, which is coordinating a national weekend of action in October. We will continue to strengthen this coalition work and believe that more efforts like these are needed around the country.
We invite anyone who agrees with this perspective to the demonstrations this weekend, and to join us and our partners to build united fronts against racism and fascism. A broad, coordinated national movement is capable of shutting down the concentration camps, abolishing ICE, drowning out racism, and stomping out the fascist threat.
Iannis Delatolas and Clare Lemlich