(2 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)
There can be no doubt that the behavior of international capital is a major driver of immigration. Looking outward from the US alone, capital has long been at play in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, extracting resources and supporting dictatorial elites with little interest in economic development, forcing many of those deliberately impoverished masses to look north. Capital builds and destroys economies and rends people’s lives to the point of desperation, forcing the poor to pick up and move wherever they can to survive.
Ironically, there is great controversy over immigration in the developed world whose system did so much to create the prospective immigrant’s desperation. In the United States and Europe the right is obsessed with immigration as a threat to cultural identity; but immigration is also controversial in the center and even on the left, or what passes for the left, allegedly because it depresses working class wages and diminishes the prospects of native-born working people.
Yet if we look at the history of the United States, we see that mass immigration can co-exist with broad prosperity or even drive it. The US absorbed millions of immigrants from the 1880’s to the 1920’s and they helped to build the wealthiest, most powerful nation that ever existed. The US continues to to absorb large numbers of immigrants, documented and undocumented, and still the nation’s wealth expands, if mostly for the elite.
As anti-capitalists, we are naturally suspicious of the nativist, chauvinist notion that immigration is a threat to our security or prosperity individually or collectively, yet few of us would say that immigration without conditions or limits would produce a good result for immigrants or the native-born working class.
How do our various leftist perspectives on immigration address objective conditions in developed economies? Does the working class of one nation owe a welcome to all others who want to come? What is in the long term interest of workers at home and around the world?
I hate using terms like “migrant” or “immigration” as they separate working people from each other using the spurious notion that nations and states are something besides the self-serving fictions of the ruling class. How do we get to a just system using the current mosaic of capital-serving regimes as a base?
To me, one of the most important fact is how, with labor now globally accessible to capital, we are all part of the reserve army of labor. Whatever accommodations we make to public sentiment, I don’t see how a long-term non-internationalist strategy can be relevant. Building working class consciousness in one country is critical to progress in domestic politics, but sound immigration policy must be come from an internationalist perspective, however it might be pitched domestically.
A major element of our strategy must be to change the terms of the debate. Unemployment and falling wages are not the fault of the worker, but the system itself. The reserve army of labor is not a bug, but a feature of capitalism and a declaration that the capitalist system either relies on unemployment and produces it naturally. The failure is not the people, but the system. It is not our sister the immigrant who is lowering wages, it is the capitalist who created the reserve army in the first place.
We must also remember that the long period of relatively uncontrolled immigration from the 1880’s to the 1920’s coincided with a period of the development of labor power and leftist agitation that has no match in the present. The real issue is not that immigrants depress wages, but that workers of all nations have so little organized power that capital can steal the surplus. We must reframe the terms of the immigration debate to achieve anything domestically or internationally.
My suggestions? Just a couple: advocate for the highest possible level of working class immigration; every immigrant is a nail in the coffin of racist nativism and seeds the domestic working class with the personal stories and political energy of immigrants. Build and support explicitly leftist institutions that can organize immigrants and their families politically.
What’s your perspective? I especially invite anarchist voices and those of immigrants. (A theorist or two to lend some intellectual rigor might be nice, too.)