Toward a Left without Borders: The Story of the Center for Autonomous Social Action-General Brotherhood of Workers

By Garcia, Arnoldo | Monthly Review, July-August 2002 | Go to article overview

Toward a Left without Borders: The Story of the Center for Autonomous Social Action-General Brotherhood of Workers


Garcia, Arnoldo, Monthly Review


A unique left organization of Mexican and Mexican-American workers emerged in the 1960s whose story still waits to be told. Meanwhile, these brief notes on its history by a former member should at least help to show why it was such an important, pioneering project.

Over a brief ten-year period (1968-1978), Centro de Accion Social Autonomo-Hermandad General de Trabajadores (CASA-HGT), the Center for Autonomous Social Action-General Brotherhood of Workers, went from a traditional mutualista or self-help center providing legal and other services as part of organizing undocumented Mexican workers in California, to a national organization rooting itself in broad working-class politics. Those politics were based on Marxism-Leninism, third world revolutionary theories, international solidarity, civil rights, and antiracism in the United States. CASA focused on an issue that remains decisive to progressive social change: organizing with and by the undocumented for equal rights. CASA-HGT was one of a few socialist-led groups that took head-on one of the unforeseen impacts of capitalist development the creation of multinational communities and migrant workers living at the crossroads of changing nation-states and international working classes.

The number of people subject to different types of involuntary migration across the world has been growing dramatically in recent decades, now numbering 150 million--more than twice the number of people displaced by the Second World War. This includes internally displaced persons, people forced to flee their homes due to socially and politically generated strife and ecological ruin within their country, refugees fleeing repression, and migrant workers crossing international borders in search of work to survive. The roots of involuntary displacement and labor migration lie in capitalist restructuring and the creation of multinational labor pools, the draining of resources, and the frayed social fabric left behind in the aftermath of colonialism and imperialist "underdevelopment."

The communist movements and parties have always prided themselves on internationalism. However, when it came to workers crossing international borders, the political and theoretical underpinnings of internationalism did not keep pace or generate leadership with a shifting working class. This is a general problem of Marxism and Leninism, which lacks a theory and analysis of internationalism and working-class organization adequate to a situation where capital's national borders have become porous; and which is therefore not well-equipped to struggle on behalf of a working class which is multinational, multilingual, multicolored, and multi-legal, that is, holding the varying statuses of recognized citizenship, legal residency, guest worker status, and the undocumented.

U.S. working-class movements have especially excluded nonwhite, lower-strata workers from their organizing purview and from membership in their institutions, organizations, and agenda. The demands of working-class organizations and left formations of color have never been perceived as representing the interests of the whole class. These theoretical exclusions by the left flowed from the political marginalization of workers of color. Instead of trying to analyze and understand the national, racial, ethnic, and economic stratification of the U.S. working class as a result of the globalized nature or imperialist roots of U.S. capital, the left most often tried to minimize the significance of this segmentation for the goals and leadership of the working class.

Demands that served people of color were labeled "minority" demands and we could hear such theoretical formulations from left and communist sources as the working class and its minority allies," as if "minorities" were something other than a majority sector of the working class. It took a long time for the left to understand this and even today many of its segments still do not understand the theoretical dimensions or political ramifications of the intersection of class, race, gender, nationality, ethnicity and nation. …

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