Class War and Tear Gas
Sunday, December 9, 2018 at 9:18AM
Challenge_DesafĂ­o

On November 24, in the heart of Paris, the French ruling class used the chemical weapon known as tear gas to terrorize a mass protest against rising taxes, stagnant wages, and widening inequality. It was a dramatic sign of escalating class warfare amid the worldwide crisis of capitalism.
The following day, in Tijuana, Mexico, in an even more blatant act of state terror, desperate Central America refugees were tear-gassed by the U.S. Border Patrol as some tried to run toward asylum in California. Wind wafted the gas more than half a mile from the border fence. One woman collapsed unconscious. Small barefoot children in diapers were overwhelmed by pain and respiratory distress. “I felt that my face was burning, and my baby fainted,” Cindy Milla, a 23-year-old migrant from Honduras, told the Wall Street Journal (11/25). She and her two children had been attacked by a nerve agent so dangerous and uncontrollable that it is “outlawed on the battlefield by nearly every nation on Earth, including the United States” (Washington Post, 11/27).
But as a tool for domestic torture, for policing by poison, tear gas is the capitalists’ go-to weapon. The bosses have used it against working-class rebellion from Syria to Palestine, Turkey to Yemen, Belgium to Venezuela. In the U.S., migrants have been getting tear-gassed at the Mexican border since the Jimmy Carter administration in 1980. Under President Barack Obama, in 2013 alone, there were 151 reported uses of pepper spray at the border, and an additional 27 uses of tear gas (usatoday.com, 11/28).
In August 2014, when hundreds of unarmed workers took over the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, after the brutal, racist murder of 18-year-old Michael Brown, they were met by a militarized police state. The local kkkops in gas masks countered with assault rifles, concussion grenades, armored vehicles—and chemical warfare.
Within 20 seconds of exposure to the gas neurotoxin, the Ferguson protesters were blinded by stinging tears. They were paralyzed by coughing, choking, and nausea. Some felt a painful tightening of the chest that can simulate a heart attack (yahoo.com, 8/19/14). An eight-year-old boy was overcome. As recounted by Huffington Post (8/17/14):
Cassandra Roberts…went down on her knees and raised her hands in a “don’t shoot” motion, but she quickly realized there was a bigger issue and she was being tear-gassed. “I got so choked up,” said Roberts. “I couldn’t even gather myself….It took one of the McDonald’s employees to pull me up out of the smoke. My eyes were wide open and I couldn’t see a thing.
Chemical weapons are designed to both incapacitate and demoralize their victims. Tear gas “is meant not just to smother, but to confuse, intimidate, and terrify” (huffingtonpost.com, 11/28). But the next night, several hundred protesters came out again to defy the police state and express their working-class solidarity.
Workers always fight back
Tear gas is not a true gas but rather an aerosol of solid or liquid compounds. Its chemical family includes pepper spray, Mace, and CS gas, the variety most widely used by police today. The rulers’ kkkops refer to tear gas as a “nonlethal” or “less-lethal” weapon. After the assault on migrant families in Tijuana, U.S. President Donald Trump, the War- Criminal- in Chief, pronounced it “very safe.”
In fact, tear gas has been linked to long-term respiratory damage, blindness, even death. “In 2013, Egyptian police killed 37 prisoners after firing CS gas into a loaded van, causing the victims to suffocate in excruciating pain.After widespread use of tear gas on protestors in Bahrain in 2012....Physicians for Human Rights reported that several women miscarried after exposure, and one asthmatic man died”(businessinsider.com, 8/19). Throwing tear gas canisters can cause lethal head injuries. And no one knows the long-term impact of the gas on children or the elderly.
Despite these dangers, working-class fighters have refused to surrender to the terrorist bosses. In the historic 1937 Flint,Michigan sit-down strike, auto workers fought back with hinges and bolts against cops and National Guardsman armed with tear gas and machine guns. In 1968, French college students dug up paving stones to hurl at police amid daily waves of CS smoke. In 2016, in a protest against a natural gas pipeline, Native Americans clashed for days against gas-wielding cops in Standing Rock, North Dakota.
Of all the lasting images from the Ferguson rebellion, the most memorable might be one of a young man named Edward Crawford, “clutching a bag of chips in one hand as he cocks his arm back to throw a burning tear gas canister that riot police had fired….” (cnn.com, 5/6/17). Crawford said he was moved to act to protect several children standing nearby.
When workers rise up, the capitalist class will wield its state power to try to smash us. But as history has shown, the workers of the world have tremendous power. We don’t always realize this potential, but when we do, we can often challenge the rulers on the street or on the job, fighting state terror and exploitation. A united, multiracial, international working class can overcome any bosses’ weapon.
A criminal history
French scientists invented tear gas during World WarI, as means of forcing German troops out from behind their barricades and trenches. It was used alongside more deadly chemical weapons, including mustard gas and chlorine. After untold numbers of civilians were killed by gas warfare, these agents were banned in war by the 1925 Geneva Protocol, and later by the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993.
But nothing stopped the bosses from using chemical weapons in anti-labor fights. By 1930, they’d been adopted by police departments in New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, San Francisco, and Chicago. In 1932, National Guard Troops fired tear gas into the Washington, DC camps occupied by the “Bonus Army,” veterans seeking overdue wartime payments. In the ensuing smoke and fire, two men were killed and an infant child asphyxiated (Atlantic, 8/16/14). A leading tear gas manufacturer, the Lake Erie Chemical Company, “followed news headlines of labor disputes and traveled to high-conflict areas, selling their products domestically and to countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, and Cuba” (Atlantic, 8/16/14)
At the 1965 march on Edmund Pettus Bridge, in Birmingham, Alabama state troopers shot dozens of tear gas canisters at peaceful civil rights protesters, giving the Klan-in-blue a smokescreen to club any protesters who fell. During the Vietnam War, U.S. troops fired tear gas into Viet Cong tunnels while the National Guards sprayed anti-war demonstrators in Berkeley, California: “Helicopters carrying tear gas showered thousands of peacefully assembled students, as well as bystanders, including nursery-school children” (The Atlantic, 8/16/14).
More recently, as working-class fightback has surged, police forces have deployed tear gas against anti-globalization demonstrators. In 2011, the year of Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, tear gas sales tripled. In By 2022, the “nonlethal” weapons industry could be worth more than $9 billion (pri.org, 11/29).
This is what capitalism has to offer our class: war crimes and brutality, death and terror. Under communism, the international working class will have no racist cops, no bosses’ borders, no “migrant” workers, no imperialist wars. Progressive Labor Party is organizing to smash the profit system and create a better world. Join us!

Article originally appeared on The Revolutionary Communist Progressive Labor Party (http://www.plp.org/).
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