Labor Must Defend Immigrants!

December 1993

Not long ago the bourgeoisie was triumphantly crowing about the "death of Communism" (actually the death of Stalinism, a malignant caricature of Communism), but today world capitalism is undergoing a sharp economic contraction. From Poland and the former Soviet Union, to Africa and Latin America, the "invisible hand" of the capitalist market is reaping a grim harvest. Thousands of paupers rummage through mountains of steaming garbage in Manila, while death squads murder juvenile street urchins in Rio de Janeiro, and fascists run rampant in London’s East End. Even in the heartlands of world imperialism, the social fabric continues to disintegrate. The capitalist system can offer little but continued impoverishment to the masses the world over.

As the rulers of the leading imperialist powers scramble to consolidate rival trading blocs, on the home front they resort to the traditional tactic of racist immigrant-bashing. The vitriolic racist demagogues of the far right (like France’s Jean-Marie Le Pen) are joined by mainstream capitalist politicians in blaming immigrants for the endemic ills of the "free market." In Germany a resurgent fascist movement has captured headlines with a series of bloody attacks on asylum-seekers, and in Britain and other countries there is also an upsurge in xenophobic violence.

Liberal Democrats Lead Reactionary Charge

Here at home, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer (a liberal feminist) took an early lead in the bipartisan war on immigrants by calling for the deployment of the California National Guard along the border with Mexico. She has been joined by a variety of prominent Califomia Democrats (including fellow Senator Dianne Feinstein and State Assembly Speaker Willie Brown) as well as Republican Governor Pete Wilson. These pols are playing on the growth of reactionary attitudes as unemployment rises and living standards fall. A recent survey by the New York Times (18 October) reported that 63% of respondents felt "the number of recent immigrants had been too high." The bipartisan assault on immigrants has already resulted in 400 additional immigration officers being assigned to police the Mexican border. And that is just a start.

This is not the first time that xenophobic sentiments in California have sparked Congressional action against immigrants. In 1882, Congress bowed to West Coast nativists and passed the Chinese Exclusion Act which prohibited Chinese immigration for ten years and led to bloody pogroms against Asian laborers. In 1921, and again in 1924 with the National Origins Act, Congress passed laws severely restricting immigration. In periods of economic expansion, capitalists seek to use immigrant laborers to drive down the wages of the domestic work force (e.g., the 1942 Bracero program in the Southwest). When the economy turns down, the immigrants are blamed.

The existing leadership of the unions has spent decades poisoning the working class with patriotism and protectionism while pursuing a literally suicidal policy of class-collaboration at home, and support to CIA union-bashing abroad. The result is that the union movement is weaker today than at any time since the 1920s. The union bureaucrats depict NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) as a mechanism for Mexican workers to steal the jobs of U.S. workers instead of what it really is—an attempt by the U.S. capitalists (and their Canadian junior partners) to take control of Mexico’s economy while simultaneously increasing the exploitation of workers throughout North America.

Many workers have been fooled into thinking that the Democrats are somehow a "lesser evil" than the Republicans. But historically both wings of the capitalist ruling class have been parties of war, racism and economic depression. Today they cynically inflame racist sentiments and play on fears generated by economic insecurity to keep the working class divided against itself. In the current capitalist depression millions of jobs have been wiped out, but all that liberal Democrats such as Latino State Senator Art Torres propose is tighter immigration restrictions to "protect" those workers who are still employed.

The only way American labor can advance its own interests is through aggressive support to workers outside the U.S. —through hot-cargoing scab products, funding organizing campaigns in the maquiladoras, and offering substantial material support to Mexican workers’ struggles. Solidarity between U.S., Mexican and Canadian workers is the only way to prevent the capitalists from leveling-down wages, working conditions and benefits by whipsawing workers against each other.

International solidarity must begin with opposition to the harassment and deportation of "undocumented" workers by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (aka La Migra). When right-wing groups such as American Spring and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) target immigrants for physical attack, class-conscious militants must respond by initiating vigorous union-centered defense. The labor movement must come out in opposition to the detention of Haitian and Chinese boat people, as well as the harassment of Mexican and other Latin American workers grabbed at the border, and fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants—they got here, so let them stay! The only exception we would make to this would be for fascists or other right-wing scum who are inevitably welcomed by the authorities in any case.

International solidarity actions must be linked to the fight for jobs for all at decent wages. Capitalism requires a "reserve army" of unemployed workers to exert downward pressure on the wages of those who have jobs. The way to fight unemployment is through a struggle for a "sliding scale of hours and wages," thirty hours work for forty hours pay with full cost of living clauses. If the bosses claim they can’t pay this, we must demand they open their financial books. Those enterprises which cannot afford to pay a decent living wage should be expropriated without compensation.

Building a militant internationalist leadership capable of getting the unions off their knees means struggling against the racist, pro-capitalist trade-union bureaucracy and the Democratic Party to which it is tied. We need a workers’ party committed to the fight for a workers’ government to expropriate the capitalists and organize a planned and socially-owned economy.

Socialist Revolution or Mass Migration?

We salute the efforts of those who recently rallied in defense of immigrant workers in Marin County and blocked the racist harassment of immigrants by rightwingers. Some of the people who have participated in these struggles have raised the call for "open borders." This utopian slogan, typically put forward by muddle-headed anarchists and left liberals seeking to oppose the vicious xenophobes of the right, has been picked up by various pseudo-Trotskyists, e.g., the Revolutionary Trotskyist League.

Revolutionaries uphold the principle that every human being has a democratic right to live where she or he wishes, that is, to emigrate to any country in the world. But Marxists recognize that the demand for "open borders" is not the answer to the obscene economic inequalities and grinding poverty imperialism has imposed on hundreds of millions of workers and poor people in the super-exploited "developing" and "underdeveloped" world. The grotesque distortions of the imperialist world economy can only be corrected through social revolution to uproot the entire system of organized piracy that lies at its root.

In some cases "open borders" and mass migration could infringe the right of nations to self-determination, as occurred with the Zionist colonization of Palestine and Han migration into Tibet. Borders will disappear only with the disappearance of separate nation-states after the establishment of an integrated egalitarian world economy based on collectivized property. This is a point which Lenin made in a 29 April 1917 speech on the national question in which he characterized the "Down with frontiers" slogan as muddled:

"We maintain that the state is necessary, and a state presupposes frontiers. The state, of course, may hold a bourgeois government, but we need the Soviets. But even Soviets are confronted with the question of frontiers. What does ‘Down with frontiers’ mean? It is the beginning of anarchy....

"We say that frontiers are determined by the will of the population. Russia, don’t you dare fight over Kurland! Germany, get your armies out of Kurland! That is how we solve the secession problem .... Only when the socialist revolution has become a reality, and not a method, will the slogan ‘Down with frontiers’ be a correct slogan."

The working class has both the social weight and the objective interest to carry the struggle for a just social order to the point of social revolution. But the precondition for successful revolutionary struggle is the creation of a political leadership within the proletariat committed to an internationalist perspective of fighting for workers’ power. By uniting the exploited and impoverished masses against the parasitic and privileged few, a socialist vanguard can play a vital role in creating a world fit for all people to live in harmony, dignity and prosperity. The Bolshevik Tendency is committed to the task of building such a party.

• Down with Boxer/Feinstein/Wilson’s Anti-Immigrant Hysteria!

• Stop All Deportations! Full Citizenship Rights for Immigrants!

• For Militant Labor-Centered Defense Against Right-Wing Attacks!

• Down With NAFTA! No to Protectionism! For International Working-Class Solidarity!

• Labor: Break With the Republocrats! Build a Workers’ Party!

Posted: 23 November 2004