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Solidarity against capitalist borders

Faline Bobier

September 28, 2015

Recently Joe Daniel, a federal Tory candidate seeking re-election, had this warning for voters in his riding. He was referring to the current refugee crisis which has seen thousands of people fleeing countries such as Syria in the wake of Western bombing:

“I think there is a different agenda going on in terms of these refugees. Whereas at the same time Saudi Arabia is putting up money for 200 mosques in Germany I think the agenda is to move as many Muslims into some of these European countries to change these countries in a major way. That is something that I certainly don’t want to see happening in Canada. I think Canada is the greatest country in the world.”

Harper’s racist strategy

This is not something Daniel dreamed up on his own. It has become central to Stephen Harper’s Tory party strategy to boost their sagging ratings in voter polls. It is a strategy which seeks to divide and conquer here at home, to try and convince us that our main enemy is not the continuing cuts to jobs and social programs—such as EI, healthcare, etc.—at the hands of Harper’s Conservative party, but rather that we should look at desperate families fleeing death and destruction in their home countries as the main problem. The anti-immigrant hysteria is also hypocritical coming from a colonial settler state.

The Tories still insist that continued Canadian support for bombing campaigns in countries like Syria and Yemen is the best way to help refugees. Twisted logic if there ever was, since it’s Western bombing that has created the desperate situations for people on the ground in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan that are forcing them to flee in the first place.

NDP leader Tom Mulcair has rightly said that Canada should stop participating in the war, but he defended fighter jets and only called for limited refugees to be let in—allowing the Liberals’s rhetoric to outflank the NDP to the left. With this kind of humanitarian crisis they should be saying open the borders. Canada is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. If the Tories would use the billions of dollars they are wasting on fighter jets (used for more bombing in the Middle East to create more refugees) instead to welcome Syrian refugees and others to this country, no more refugees would need to perish.

And this is not a crisis limited to Canada. Right now in Europe countries like Hungary are erecting walls to keep people prisoner and prevent them from escaping desperate situations. Just as here in Canada, the twin evils of austerity and racism are stoking the growth of the far right, as with the Jobbik party in Hungary.

Capitalist borders

Under capitalism, we are led to believe that borders between countries are “natural” and that immigration controls are necessary to ensure that we don’t “let in” more people than we can handle as they might steal “our” resources or “our” jobs. But capitalist borders are artificial lines—especially in countries like Canada that have imposed themselves on Indigenous territories—and these artificial lines serve to divide the 99% for the benefit of the 1%. Capital and the wealthy are always able to cross borders whenever they want—and increasingly so, through “free trade” deals. But the people who are restricted in their ability to move, even when they face death or starvation if they stay, are working class people and the poor.

When capitalism is in an economic boom period and capitalists are falling over themselves to expand their operations there is usually a labour shortage. This is overcome by drawing people into the labour force from wherever there is a cheap and convenient supply: women from the Philippines to work as domestic labour in middle-class homes, immigrants from poorer countries to work in the fast-food industry. Programs like the Temporary Foreign Worker Program show how borders benefit capitalists: by allowing Canadian corporations to increase the exploitation of migrant workers while denying them status, and at the same time scapegoating them for austerity. When the boom turns to slump, nothing suits the system better than to be able to treat these workers as “surplus” and to suggest they are responsible for the crisis, rather than the economic system itself.

If you look at the 1930s, the last period of serious economic decline of the system, the racism against the immigrants within (the Jewish population inside Germany) was one of the main tools Hitler used to bring the Nazis to power. One of the famous Nazi propaganda slogans was “3,000,000 unemployed. 3,000,000 Jews,” the implication being that it was the Jews who were taking ordinary German workers’ jobs. This slogan would be used again half a century later by Jean-Marie Le Pen’s fascist National Front in France—substituting “Jews” with “immigrants,” and targeting the Muslim population in France.

These were lies then of course, and they are lies now. The economic crisis was not limited within the borders of Germany or indeed any one country—and not caused by an oppressed minority—but was and is a general crisis of the system. Workers were and are suffering in all countries, and the people who continue to do well are the ruling elites in each country. They are the ones who are more than willing to use the divide and conquer tactics of scapegoating Jews, Muslims, immigrants, for the problems of their system.

Solidarity across borders

The Communist Manifesto famously ends with a call for international solidarity, “Workers of all countries unite—you have a world to win, and nothing to lose but your chains.” What is the meaning of this statement and how does it apply in our current situation? What Marx is saying is that it’s ruling classes around the world who have created and who protect the notion of borders. It allows them to control their own populations and gives them a basis for wealth creation. And in times of economic crisis, like the current period, the “us vs them” mentality can serve our rulers well, as it creates divisions between ordinary people on either side of these artificial lines.

As socialists we argue against all immigration controls because we know that borders are there to enforce the rule of capital. They are there to prevent workers and the poor from moving in an attempt to find a better life for themselves. They also serve the purpose of convincing workers of the same nation that they have more in common with members of their own ruling class than with workers from other nations who struggle just as they do to survive. And they serve to bolster the colonial nation state, built on the ongoing colonization of Indigenous territories.

That’s why it has been heartening to see ordinary people resisting the lies of their own governments in country after country and reaching out in solidarity to those seeking survival by leaving everything that they know to face great dangers and even death in their pursuit of a better life. Rallies to welcome refugees have spread around the world. People came out in Hungary to offer food, blankets, clothes, to refugees seeking to pass through the country on their way to other destinations and being blocked by the Hungarian government. Here in Canada many people have offered to sponsor Syrian refugees. It’s only the outcry by ordinary Canadians, because of the drowning deaths of people attempting to flee, that has prompted political parties to make even the weak offers they have made.

Here in Canada we need to point the finger at the Tories who are stoking the fires of Islamophobia with their anti-Muslim propaganda at the same time as they are supporting continued bombing in the Middle East. We also need to understand that solidarity with immigrants and refugees is not an act of charity but of critical importance for the whole working class.

When Tories scapegoat immigrants, refugees and Muslims for the problems in Canada, they are trying to take the focus away from their ongoing attacks on all of us—the attacks on union organization, on funding to healthcare, on funding for Veterans Affairs, on Old Age Security, on the right to protest. The more they can divide us from each other or get us to focus on a false enemy in the guise of the “Muslim threat,” the less able will we be to fight back. That’s why we need to oppose every attack, every cut in services and every racist rant against immigrants and refugees

Join the anti-war contingent at the Federal Leaders debate, tonight at 6pm at Roy Thompson Hall

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