Saturday, May 25, 2019
Workers Vanguard No. 1155
17 May 2019
The Fight for Abortion Rights and the War on Immigrants
The years-long onslaughts against immigrants and abortion rights have converged in a double-barreled assault on Latinas. These attacks started long before Trump rode into the White House vowing to crack down on immigrants and overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and allow states to make abortion illegal. The anti-abortion fanatics, who today feel the wind in their sails, have for decades been aided and abetted by the Democrats, the other party of American capitalism, which no less than the Republican Party is an enemy of immigrants, black people and workers.
The detention centers near the U.S.-Mexico border are racist hellholes, where women are subjected to all manner of brutality. The Trump administration tried to prevent teenagers held by the Office of Refugee Resettlement from obtaining abortions, forcing some of them to sue in order to have the procedure. Even now, the government is trying to beat back a court order that temporarily blocks it from interfering with detained minors who want abortions. As internal government documents released last year show, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) and Border Patrol cops routinely commit acts of violence, including rape and sexual abuse. The thousands of atrocities revealed by these documents happened under Obama, who endowed his successor with a well-oiled “immigration enforcement” machine. Massive numbers of immigrants were packed off to detention centers and deportations soared to record levels.
Undocumented immigrants are trapped in the shadows, their lives stamped by fear, as is starkly displayed in Texas. Many there live in the colonias, the impoverished, often remote communities along the border that largely lack clean water, waste disposal and paved roads, much less health care. Undocumented Latinas face anti-woman bigotry, racism, language barriers, poverty, precarious jobs and the constant threat of deportation. It is nearly impossible for them to get insurance or medical care in this country’s for-profit health system.
To try to get an abortion in Texas today is to meet the full force of the drive to illegalize it. In that state, where more people are executed than in any other state, the House of Representatives considered a bill that would allow the death penalty for women who get abortions. It failed but it is indicative of the climate. Texas is “ground zero for government surveillance and hostility toward immigrants that sits at the crux of hatred for women, hatred of abortion,” as Jessica González-Rojas, head of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, said of the border area.
Women are forced to make the agonizing choice between an abortion, which could pose the risk of deportation, and bearing a child that they are unable to raise. Following passage of the 2013 anti-abortion laws that forced the closure of more than half of Texas clinics, some 20 facilities remain open. Women must travel long distances with the terrifying possibility of being grabbed at one of the many internal Border Patrol checkpoints located up to 100 miles from the border. At the clinics, anti-abortion protesters intimidate and humiliate patients, snapping photos to be plastered on the internet or given to border cops.
I.C.E. agents often lurk in the parking lots. Once inside, patients must show state-issued ID. This measure was enacted in 2016 to prevent minors from getting abortions without parental or judicial approval, creating a dangerous hurdle for both teens and immigrant women. As immigration and reproductive rights activist Alejandra Pablos, who got an abortion amid still ongoing attempts to deport her, put it: “I don’t have the privilege to say, ‘my choice, my body’ when my body basically belongs to ICE.”
Even trying to access routine medical care is dangerous, as the case of Blanca Borrego, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, showed. In 2015, she sought care at a women’s clinic in the Houston area. When the staff called her into the exam room, she was arrested and handcuffed for using a false ID when she arrived for her appointment. For the nearly two million undocumented immigrants in Texas, this sent a terrifying message. Many legal immigrants, too, are avoiding doctors and hospitals, fearing that undocumented relatives will be grabbed by la migra.
What is needed is clear: free abortion on demand, quality health care for all, free at the point of service, and free 24-hour childcare, as well as full citizenship rights for everyone who makes it into this country. Such gains would go a long way to address the needs of immigrants, women and workers everywhere. All immigrants should be able to receive health services in their language or have an interpreter. This perspective is vital to the defense of the whole of the working class with its significant immigrant component.
Access to abortion is heavily conditioned by class. Wealthy women can always find ways to get around the restrictions on abortion. But for the majority of poor, Latina and black women—those who are uninsured, can’t afford it or can’t get to a clinic—there is effectively no right to abortion.
The years-long crusade against Planned Parenthood is an attack on these very women. One of the few organizations in the U.S. that offers low-cost health care to teens and poor, minority and working-class women, Planned Parenthood provides cancer screenings, birth control, sex education and, of course, abortions, which account for 3 percent of their services. Trump’s proposed “gag” law would make it illegal for Planned Parenthood and other facilities that receive federal Title X family planning funding to tell patients how to obtain an abortion. It would also bar women from getting birth control at these clinics.
Out of desperation, undocumented women and others are turning to self-induced abortions, which can be dangerous. Poverty, pregnancy and the utter lack of access to abortion combine to drive women to deadly measures, from throwing themselves down stairs to ingesting turpentine and other toxic substances. And if the state can prosecute, it will, as in the case of Anna Yocca, an Amazon worker who was charged with attempted murder for trying to abort her 24-week-old fetus with a coat hanger (see “Tennessee Tortures Woman for Abortion Attempt,” WV No. 1102, 16 December 2016).
The very safe abortion pill (mifepristone and misoprostol taken together) should be a godsend for women, but like many medical advances, the benefits are curtailed by medicine for profit. In the U.S., the pills can cost up to $1,600, putting them out of reach for many women. If obtained without a prescription, women can be and have been prosecuted, opening the door to deportation.
Abortion is simple and safer than pregnancy or childbirth, and it should be a private matter. But the issue is explosive because it allows women to control when or if to have children, thus posing the question of women’s legal and social equality. Abortion restrictions bolster the institution of the family, the main source of women’s oppression and—along with organized religion and the state—a crucial prop for the system of capitalist exploitation. A key function of the family is to instill respect for authority, regiment the population and enforce bourgeois morality, which condemns anything seen to undermine “motherhood” and “family values,” including abortion.
Latina women come from countries dominated by the Catholic church, where abortion, with few exceptions, is illegal and considered a sin. The idea that a fetus is a human being and endowed with a soul is an invention of the Catholic church. As materialists, we reject this notion. Far from being some “eternal truth” of Catholicism, the idea that human life begins at conception was invented by Pope Pius IX in 1869 as part of a drive to buttress the power of the church in the face of rising secularism and bourgeois nationalism.
This bogus doctrine, today seized on by both Protestant and Catholic foes of abortion, underpins the “fetal heartbeat” laws now on the books of many states. Less than two weeks ago, the Georgia legislature passed one such law that criminalizes abortion after six weeks, when many women do not even know they are pregnant; women who terminate their pregnancies beyond that can be imprisoned and charged with murder. Cut of the same cloth are the dozens of “fetal homicide” laws under which hundreds of women have been prosecuted for engaging in behavior deemed “unacceptable” while pregnant, from drinking alcohol to taking prescription drugs or not wearing a seat belt. These measures serve to reinforce the oppression of women in the family.
To many young activists, the future of abortion rights surely looks bleak. The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision was a critical gain for women, but it was limited, partial and, like all reforms under capitalism, reversible. And it has been reversed to the point where it hardly exists for many women, with some 90 percent of U.S. counties lacking any abortion provider. Since 1973, there have been well over 1,200 legal measures against abortion. In recent months, scarcely a day has passed without some extreme, new restriction being proposed. This underscores that looking to the courts and politicians is a forlorn hope. Abortion rights were won not thanks to a benevolent, supposedly liberal Supreme Court, but by years of explosive social struggle at the base of American society, centrally for black rights and against the Vietnam War.
Likewise, real blows against the war on abortion will come through struggle. That, in turn, requires combating the liberal, legalistic strategies of the feminist movement, which revolve around the election of “women-friendly” candidates (read Democrats) who will supposedly reverse the attacks on abortion. Looking to the Democrats has always demobilized fighters for women’s rights while ceding ground to the reactionaries. The Democrats make statements upholding Roe, but they represent the capitalist class and are committed to the institution of the family, the exploitation of the working class and U.S. imperialist interests abroad. When it matters, they accede to the anti-abortion crusade, and are fully complicit in the steady chipping away of abortion rights.
The Hyde Amendment signed by Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1977 eliminated abortion coverage from the Medicaid health plans of 23 million poor women and every president since then has renewed it. Over thirty years later, Obama ensured that under his Affordable Care Act federal funds were “not used for abortion services” nor would they benefit “those who are here illegally.” The combined effect of these measures was to force millions of women to pay for abortions—as for those who can’t pay, well, as Carter put it, “There are many things in life that are not fair.”
The devastation of abortion rights is part of the broader assault on the rights and living conditions of the working class as a whole, from poverty wages and skyrocketing medical costs to the shredding of what is left of the social safety net. As revolutionary communists, our defense of abortion rights and every other conquest that the workers and oppressed have won is part of our struggle to build a vanguard party—70 percent black, Latino and other minority—that will champion the interests of the proletariat against the capitalist rulers. Such a party will be, as Lenin said, a “tribune of the people,” fighting every form of capitalist oppression and violence so that the workers can see that their class interests lie in the overthrow of this racist capitalist order. Only when the working class takes power will it be possible to put an end to this system that requires the subjugation of women, laying the material basis for women’s liberation.
Workers Vanguard No. 1155
17 May 2019
Democrat-Backed White House Coup Flops
Venezuela: Down With U.S. Sanctions, Military Threats!
Once again, right-wing forces acting at the behest of U.S. imperialism have attempted to seize power in Venezuela. Standing on a highway overpass near a Caracas airbase in the early morning hours of April 30, Washington stooges Juan Guaidó and Leopoldo López called on the armed forces to revolt in the “final phase” of “Operation Freedom,” the campaign to overthrow the bourgeois-populist regime of Nicolás Maduro. Regurgitating White House spin, the U.S. capitalist media refused to call the coup attempt by its right name, preferring terms like “uprising” or even “protest.” But with only a couple dozen soldiers by his side, Guaidó’s plot quickly fizzled. As tens of thousands gathered to defend the presidential palace, López scurried away to the Chilean and then the Spanish Embassy, while Guaidó led a march that was dispersed by the National Guard.
All opponents of U.S. imperialism should cheer the defeat of this attempted putsch. However, the U.S. rulers remain determined to oust Maduro and install a regime loyal to their diktats. Asked about military intervention, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox Business News, “If that’s what’s required, that’s what the United States will do.” The U.S. also stepped up brutal economic sanctions against Venezuela, which sits on the world’s largest proven oil reserves as well as substantial gold and other mineral wealth.
U.S. attempts to unseat the Venezuelan regime date back to a failed 2002 coup against Maduro’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez. Like Maduro, Chávez was a bonapartist capitalist ruler who exercised a degree of independence from the Yankee imperialists. Proud of his mestizo background in a country with a lily-white elite, Chávez used Venezuela’s oil revenues to fund social reforms benefiting the urban and rural poor and denounced U.S. military interventions. His regime established close ties with Cuba, a bureaucratically deformed workers state, providing oil to help keep it afloat in the face of relentless U.S. hostility. The White House has now further tightened the U.S. embargo against Cuba (see article this issue).
We oppose all U.S. machinations in Venezuela and stand for that country’s defense against any imperialist military attack. At the same time, as revolutionary Marxists we give no political support to the bourgeois Maduro regime. Washington howls that the crisis in Venezuela shows the failure of “socialism.” In fact, Maduro and his bourgeois supporters, including in the officer corps, are being targeted because they are not servile to Washington, not because they in any way represent a challenge to capitalism.
While the Republican Trump administration is leading the drive for “regime change” in Venezuela, “support for Guaidó and opposition to Maduro has been a rare bipartisan issue in Washington,” as ABC News observed on the day of the fizzled coup. Indeed, the Democratic Party is a full partner in the drive to bring Venezuela to heel, from mainstream pols like Nancy Pelosi to “progressives” like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Asked about the coup attempt, Ocasio-Cortez replied, “I defer to caucus leadership on how we navigate this.” With a mere handful in Congress voicing any opposition to the administration’s policies in Venezuela, it’s clear that the Democrats’ main concern is that the coup attempt failed.
A quick learner in imperialist duplicity, Ocasio-Cortez echoed Trump by calling Venezuela “an issue of authoritarianism vs. democracy.” Washington claims that Maduro was not “democratically elected.” In fact, Maduro was elected president twice, most recently in 2018 when most of the right-wing opposition boycotted. For his part, Sanders, who has repeatedly voted to fund the U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, denounces Maduro’s “violent crackdown on Venezuelan civil society.” Out of one side of his mouth he tut-tuts about Washington’s history of “inappropriately” intervening in Latin America. From the other side, he tells the New Yorker (13 April) that Venezuela needs “free and fair elections, and we want to do everything we can to establish democracy there.” This is simply hiding imperialism’s clenched fist in a “democratic” glove.
The U.S. working class has every interest in opposing the bloody depredations of its capitalist rulers. For well over a century, American imperialism under both the Democrats and Republicans has left a trail of wars, death squads, embargoes and coups to keep Latin America under its jackboot. By taking a stand against the sanctions and threatened military intervention, and demanding the cancellation of Venezuela’s debt to the U.S., the workers would strengthen their hand for waging class struggle at home against their exploiters.
Big Lies and Deadly Sanctions
As several of his cohorts were swept up by the Maduro regime, Guaidó called yet another rally on May 11, turning out a scant few hundred of his supporters. Dropping the pretense that he is anything but Washington’s tool, Guaidó blustered that as Venezuela’s “rightful” ruler he is empowered to invite foreign troops into the country.
This pretender got his political grooming at George Washington University under Luis Enrique Berrizbeitia, a former director of the International Monetary Fund who served in right-wing Venezuelan governments in the 1980s. Guaidó went on to help found the reactionary Voluntad Popular (VP—Popular Will) party. The main VP leader, Leopoldo López, is a scion of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie who got his training at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, a notorious CIA recruiting ground. (For more, see Dan Cohen and Max Blumenthal, “The Making of Juan Guaidó: How the US Regime Change Laboratory Created Venezuela’s Coup Leader,” thegrayzone.com, 29 January.)
Heavily financed by the National Endowment for Democracy, a CIA front, VP organized violent street protests against the Maduro government starting in 2014. López was convicted of incitement for his role in these riots, which killed hundreds, and was later placed under house arrest. The U.S. then chose Guaidó, hitherto little known even within Venezuela, as a figurehead for the projected coup. Elevated to head the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Guaidó traveled secretly to the U.S., Colombia and Brazil to coordinate plans. After meeting with Pompeo in early January, he returned to Caracas, declared himself president and was immediately recognized by the U.S., Canada and most Latin American regimes, soon joined by various European governments.
The imperialists and their kept media are claiming that Venezuelans are starving because Maduro has ruined the economy. The real story is that U.S. sanctions have strangled the Venezuelan people, massively compounding economic hardships brought on by falling oil prices. The sanctions began under Barack Obama in 2015 and have been escalated by Trump.
The U.S. has used its power over the global monetary system, in which the dollar is by far the main reserve currency, to block Venezuela from accessing financial markets. Washington has also seized some $7 billion in Venezuelan assets, declaring that they belong to Guaidó’s cabal. The Bank of England added to the imperialist larceny by grabbing $1.2 billion’s worth of Venezuela’s gold earlier this year. Such measures prevent the country from obtaining many necessities and undertaking measures aimed at stabilizing the economy. Food imports plummeted from $11.2 billion in 2013 to $2.4 billion in 2018 and are expected to plunge even further this year. The U.S. ban on oil from Venezuela has cut the country off from its main export market, leading to a cataclysmic collapse in production.
A recent report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), a liberal think tank, describes the devastating impact, from reducing food intake and increasing disease to causing a section of the population to flee economic depression and hyperinflation (“Economic Sanctions as Collective Punishment: The Case of Venezuela,” April 2019). The report estimates that sanctions have led to the preventable deaths of at least 40,000 Venezuelans in the past two years. More than 300,000 more are at risk due to lack of access to medicine or treatment, including about 80,000 with HIV who cannot obtain antiretroviral drugs. Placing all the blame on the Trump White House, the CEPR report carefully avoids any mention of the impact of Obama-era sanctions, which were coupled with the channeling of funds to the right-wing opposition.
China, the largest of the remaining deformed workers states, and capitalist Russia have sent medical supplies to help alleviate the crisis. They have also provided substantial loans to the Maduro regime and denounced U.S. attempts at violent “regime change.” Pompeo brazenly charged that Chinese loans and investments in Venezuela “have helped destroy that country” (South China Morning Post, 4 May). National Security Advisor John Bolton demanded that Russia withdraw its handful of military advisers from Venezuela. “This is our hemisphere,” he warned darkly, “it’s not where the Russians ought to be interfering.” Of course, the U.S. interferes in Russia’s “hemisphere” all the time, such as when it sponsored the fascist-infested coup in Ukraine in 2014.
Reformist Apologists for Imperialism
The Democratic and Republican parties see every inch of land south of the Rio Grande/Río Bravo as the U.S. rulers’ private hunting ground. For the more liberal imperialists like Bernie Sanders, American capitalist interests might be harmed by unilateral military intervention into Venezuela, which could backfire and spark turmoil throughout the region. They would prefer to get the allies on board so that it’s not just U.S. troops marching into Caracas.
Socialist Alternative (SAlt), which as in 2016 is going all out for the Sanders presidential campaign, maintains a strict vow of silence on their man’s support for ousting Maduro. SAlt’s only mention of Sanders in its last online article on Venezuela was to whine that “comparisons with Venezuela are being used to smear ‘democratic socialists’ like Bernie Sanders and AOC [Ocasio-Cortez] and their pro-working class demands” (socialistalternative.org, 15 February). Coupling its paeans to these imperialist politicians with denunciations of the “undemocratic” Maduro, SAlt shows its colors as drummer boys for imperialism in its “democratic” garb.
In the same vein, SAlt condemns Maduro for “turning to China against the U.S.,” which, the article opines, “is increasingly in competition with Chinese, and to a lesser degree, Russian imperialism in Latin America.” Describing Russia, a regional capitalist power, as imperialist fits neatly with the demonization of that country by the U.S. ruling class, especially the Democrats. As for China, SAlt’s false line that it is capitalist and even a rising imperialist power is just cover for its promoting the forces of “democratic” counterrevolution that seek to return China to capitalist rule and imperialist subjugation.
Left Voice, U.S. affiliate of the Argentine-based Trotskyist Faction-Fourth International, strikes a seemingly more critical pose than SAlt, chastising Ocasio-Cortez as well as Sanders for “providing a left cover for the Trump administration’s narrative in favor of a coup” (leftvoice.org, 6 May). Pointing to a three-sentence DSA statement objecting to the coup attempt, Left Voice asks, “Is AOC in any way accountable to the DSA?” The opportunists of Left Voice look to the State Department “socialists” of the DSA, which as a component part of the Democratic Party is committed to promoting the fortunes of U.S. imperialism. The role of the DSA and its left adjuncts is to refurbish the Democrats’ image so as to better tie disaffected youth and workers to this party of exploitation, oppression and imperialist war. The Spartacist League seeks to build a revolutionary proletarian party that breaks workers and the oppressed from the Democrats and links struggles against imperialism abroad to the fight to overturn the system of wage slavery and racial oppression at home.
For a Revolutionary Perspective
In Venezuela, the working class must come to the fore in struggle against the imperialists and their local lackeys. But the workers must be organized based on political independence from the Maduro regime and all capitalist forces. Various reformist groups around the world used to hail Venezuela as a model for “21st century socialism.” Most have quietly retired such claims, but the Party for Socialism and Liberation continues to assert that the “Bolivarian Revolution” has laid “the foundations for the construction of socialism” (liberationnews.org, 23 January).
In truth, there was no revolution in Venezuela, where Chávez was elected with support from a section of the military, a central component of the capitalist state apparatus. His program of populist reforms, including some nationalizations of businesses, was in no way a challenge to capitalist class rule. One of Chávez’ predecessors, the more mainstream Carlos Andrés Pérez, nationalized oil and mining in the mid 1970s and, with booming oil revenues, massively subsidized food, transportation, health care and education. When the boom went bust, a later Pérez regime instituted brutal austerity measures against working people and the poor. Both the traditional, pro-U.S. bourgeois oligarchy and the boliburguesía, the section of capitalists who enriched themselves under Chávez and Maduro, are class enemies of the workers and oppressed.
Throughout the semicolonial world, the bourgeoisie is too weak, fearful of the proletariat and dependent on the capitalist world market to break the chains of imperialist subjugation, overcome mass poverty and resolve other burning social issues. The proletariat is the only class with the potential, based on its central role in production, to lead all the exploited and the oppressed—from wage workers and peasants to impoverished slum dwellers—in a socialist revolution that sweeps away the capitalist state. Such a revolution would have to be spread through the victory of workers power in the U.S. and other advanced capitalist countries, which would expropriate the imperialist bloodsuckers and lay the basis for all-round socialist development in a worldwide planned economy.
This is the perspective of permanent revolution developed and extended by Leon Trotsky, who together with V. I. Lenin was a key leader of the October 1917 workers revolution in Russia. Following the example of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks, we seek to build sections of a reforged Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution, to organize and educate the working class in uncompromising hostility to imperialism and political opposition to all wings of the exploiters.