The Roots of the Rise in Anti-Asian Hate Crimes

by Benji Weiss

We would like to introduce one of WPUSA’s newest members, Benji Weiss.

In the year since the murder of George Floyd, the harsh reality of the racism still experienced by African Americans, 150 years after the abolition of slavery and half a century since the civil rights movement, was witnessed by the whole country and then by the world.

Likewise, Trump’s support by, and endorsement of, white supremacists, his abuse of those seeking to cross the southern borders and so-called illegals as “disease carrying criminals” underlined the fact that many other communities are also the targets of racism in the USA today.

A series of shootings at three massage parlors and spas in Atlanta, Georgia, on March 16, drew attention to the racist violence against people of Asian heritage. Of the 8 victims, 6 were women of Asian descent. This in turn drew attention to the fact that verbal abuse and physical attacks, sometimes culminating in murder, are an all too regular experience for Americans of Chinese, Korean, Philippine, Japanese, Vietnamese, and other Asian-Pacific descent.

The Atlanta tragedy has ignited a national debate that the state and the media are finding it impossible to avoid. In January, 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee, of Thai origin, was shoved to the ground while taking his morning walk in San Francisco; two days after the assault, he died. In New York City, a 61-year-old Filipino man had his face slashed with a box cutter while a 91-year-old man was thrown to the ground in Oakland, California, where 20 such violent attacks have been reported this year.

Fueling concerns was evidence, published earlier this month, in a report by the California State University’s San Bernadino Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, that showed a 150 percent surge in anti-Asian hate crimes in America’s largest cities over the course of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the report, not only have these cases increased by 150 percent, from 49 in 2019 to 120 in 2020, but this happened while overall hate crimes declined by 6 percent, from 1,877 in 2019 to 1,773 in 2020. A report compiled by the policy group Stop AAPI Hate also catalogued around 3,800 racist incidents aimed at Asian people in the United States, including crimes. (AAPI stands for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders)

This rapid increase is clearly related to Donald Trump seizing on the fact that the global pandemic started in Wuhan to claim, on Fox News, that the virus started in the Institute of Virology in that city, and that the World Health Organization had covered this up because it is somehow in China’s pocket. From then on, Trump regularly called Covid 19 “Chinese flu” or “the Chinese virus”. QAnon, and other retailers of mad conspiracy theories, claimed that it was, in effect, Chinese germ warfare deliberately intended to bring down the US economy. All this conveniently helped to cover up the Administration’s own irresponsible refusal to take protective measures, resulting in the US having the world’s worst outbreak.

Allied to this, is the narrative spread by both overtly reactionary and supposedly “progressive” elements of the powers that be, that China represents a threat to “our way of life.” Much has been said about China’s aggression towards Taiwan and in the South China Sea. Much has been said about the persecution of the Uighurs, Tibetans, and those fighting for democratic rights in Hong Kong. Of course, these accusations are true but, coming from a government and mainstream media that cover up equally heinous crimes committed by America’s own allies, this is just the purest hypocrisy.

To mention just a few examples there is the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, engaged in a genocidal war in Yemen, or Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who keeps 70,000-100,000 political prisoners locked in his prisons. Despite these crimes, in 2017, the US signed a $110bn deal to supply arms to the Saudis and annually sends roughly $1.3bn in military aid to Egypt.

Then there is America’s closest ally, Israel, with its relentless persecution of the Palestinians, funded in part by the USA. Washington could stop all of this barbarism by turning off the tap of military and economic aid and investment, but it doesn’t. Why not? Because no imperialist power is, or ever was, guided by the principles of democracy and human rights, but by defending and extending its own exploitation of other peoples around the world, by all possible means.

Indeed, racism was the spawn of capitalism in its earliest phase, when it transported millions of Africans to the Americas and European colonialism wiped out a huge proportion of the indigenous peoples of territories around the world. Under industrial capitalism, too, it transported huge numbers of indentured Chinese laborers to build its railways and canals. It justified these various forms of super-exploitation and forced labor by asserting that its victims were inherently uncivilized, in fact, less than equal human beings. Yes, the Nazis had predecessors in the so-called democratic nations.

Imperialist Rivalry and Racism

For decades, the American bourgeoisie was happy enough to do highly profitable business with China, seeing it as a market for US products, a place to offshore production from its corporations, all the while hailing the restoration of capitalism as proof of its global superiority. So, why the last decade’s increasing hysteria and hostility to China, starting with Obama’s military pivot to Asia, through Trump’s trade war, to Biden’s human rights crusade?

All this has little or nothing to do with the very real wrongdoings of the Chinese government. Rather, it is to protect and expand US imperial interests, to protect the dominance of American multinational corporations against the rising, economic power of China. The only people who benefit from ramping up this conflict, now no longer just a matter of trade but taking on a military aspect, are America’s capitalists.

The United States’ publicizing of the sufferings of the Uighurs or the repression of the democracy movement in Hong Kong, or the “discovery” of growing Chinese economic muscle in the third world, are used as tools to maintain their own economic and military domination of the world. Such propaganda does little or nothing to aid the justified resistance to Xi Jinping’s crimes.

US commentators and politicians have highlighted the growing sway that China has as a major investor in the third world, particularly in Africa, some even call this imperialism. On that, they are right, what we are seeing is indeed the development of a new imperialist rival to US imperialism. For the US to complain about this, however, given the role it played for most of the twentieth century, is rich indeed.

After the First World War, together with the British, the Japanese and the French, it tried to break up China, it then blockaded the People’s Republic after the revolution of 1949, effectively reinforcing Mao Zedong’s Stalinist regime. After that regime saved itself from the wrath of its own people with the Tiananmen Massacre and the restoration of capitalism, US corporations pumped in millions to exploit the new opportunities for profit. What they now oppose and hate is not the crimes of Xi Jinping but the rising power and rivalry of Chinese imperialism.

Xi Jinping represents no more of a threat to the American working class than “our own” government and huge corporations, indeed less. By inflaming hatred of the foreigner abroad, and of American Asians at home, our bosses want working people to buy into their lies that the USA is a more benign, democratic, form of oppression and imperialism, just because it is home grown. This only drives people to reinforce their own oppression by hating people only superficially different from themselves, in the process failing to recognise their real enemy. But, as the German revolutionary Karl Liebknecht famously said in 1914, “the main enemy is standing in our own country.”

Roots of Anti-Asian Racism

Racism against Asian Americans has deep roots. Chinese immigrant labor came to the gold mines in the late 1840s and then played a big role in building the transcontinental railroads in the 1850s. Sections of white workers, themselves recent immigrants from oppression in Europe, were whipped up into demanding that the “coolies” be excluded or sent back home. In California, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that Chinese could not testify in courts because they were: “a race of people whom nature has marked as inferior, and who are incapable of progress or intellectual development.”

In 1875 and 1882, anti-Chinese immigration laws were passed which remained in effect until 1942, when Nationalist China was an ally of the US against Japan. At the same time, 120,000 Japanese Americans, 62 percent of them full US citizens, were interned in inhospitable desert camps for the duration of the war. In the 1890s, a ferocious Sinophobic campaign around the idea of the “Yellow Peril,” was whipped up. Its origins lay in Tsarist Russia from where it was quickly picked up by the Kaiser’s Germany and then exported to the Great Republic. Here, it was eagerly received not only by nativist and Jim Crow reactionaries but by sections of the labor movement, too. It is a true born twin of antisemitism.

Some trade unionists, especially in the skilled trades, who had already tried to exclude Irish immigrants and then Black workers, argued that Chinese workers were “incapable of being organised”. Samuel Gompers, the infamously anti-Marxist leader of the American Federation of Labour, wrote a pamphlet in 1902 called American Manhood versus Asiatic Coolieism: Which shall Survive? The record of the Socialist Party of America, founded in 1901, however, was not much better. It was “color blind” to the racism against black workers, ignoring Jim Crow in the South and denouncing the arrival of immigrant workers from China or Japan.

When the Second International, at its Amsterdam (1904) and Stuttgart (1907) conferences, condemned immigration controls, this was strongly opposed by a majority of the US delegates, specifically by one of the party’s main leaders, Morris Hilquit. He joined the Dutch and Australian delegates in sponsoring a resolution opposing entry into the US and Europe by workers from “backward races”, meaning the Chinese and Japanese. Victor Berger, another leading Socialist, and himself an Austrian Jewish immigrant, demanded that the USA must remain “a white man’s country”.

Even a prominent pre-1914 Marxist, Ernest Unterman, the translator of the three volumes of Marx’s Capital, was an unashamed white supremacist, saying; “I am determined that my race shall be supreme in this country and in the world.” It took a hard struggle, first by IWW revolutionary syndicalists then by US Communists in the 1920s and Trotskyists in the 1930s, to combat anti-Black and anti-Asian racism amongst sections of white workers. This is a struggle that, in the age of Trumpism, we need to wage again today.

Uniting the antiracist and working class struggles

Fortunately, however, the Black Lives Matter movement has already drawn large numbers of white antiracists, particularly the young, women, and the swelling ranks of the Democratic Socialists, into antiracist mobilisations.

As communists, we must fight for the protection of the democratic rights of all oppressed people: of women, oppressed ‘racial’, national and ethnic groups, immigrants, and LGBTQI+ people. We must fight against the reactionary, nativist, and otherwise chauvinistic, elements that have at times pervaded the socialist and communist movements and support the struggles of Asian as well as all oppressed ethnic and national groups against racist attacks and discrimination.

There was a rally on March 21 in Birmingham, with the slogan “Stop Asian Hate” supported by white, Black, Latinx, people; called by, the Alabama Asian Cultures Foundation, Black Lives Matter, Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, the Vietnamese Student Association at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and others. Speakers related anti-Asian racism to the experiences of Black people, and the need to fight against all forms of racism and white supremacy. But we also need to fight all and any attempts, from whatever source, to set different sections of the racially oppressed, like Asian and Black people against one another.

We cannot work towards building a socialist society without dismantling all systems of oppression, racial, class and gender. The working class of all ethnic origins within the USA, and of all countries, must reject our rulers’ incitement to fight one another. The real enemy of us all is the capitalist class and all systems that serve it. This does not mean that we are in any way “color blind” to the different forms of racism and oppression and their importance. We have to fight all examples of oppression and exploitation in order to build an invincible instrument of struggle: an independent working class party and a new International to fight global capitalism. The growth of the DSA, the drives to organize Amazon, also give hope for this.

Workers must fight for the defeat of imperialism and capitalism in all other countries as well as in our own. As Marx said in that most fundamental document of the revolutionary workers’ movement, the Communist Manifesto, the working people have no country: we can and must unite.