[Marxism] The Marxist position on immigration policy in imperialist countries
Jose G. Perez
elgusanorojo at bellsouth.net
Wed Feb 18 20:10:20 MST 2004
Calvin Broadbent writes, about the debate in Britain, "What Marxist or
socialist arguments are best to use in opposing these immigration
I am very doubtful about Marxists counterposing a supposedly "working
class" program on "immigration controls" for an imperialist country such
as Britain. It seems to be me our axis should be to oppose the attempt
to whip up a racist pogrom atmosphere, defend full human, civil and
political rights for all people regardless of immigration status, and
advocate *unions* as the immediate way to counter the way capitalists
try to pit worker against worker.
In bourgeois economic terms (and we ARE dealing with capitalist
economies), the arguments *for* immigration are overwhelming. Viewed as
an economic object, a commodity, labor power is neither cheap nor easy
to produce. A full-grown worker ready to exploit normally represents in
an advanced capitalist country a net economic investment by society as a
whole of hundreds of thousands of dollars. (True, many of these costs
are unrecognized in the money economy, but they are still THERE. If
parents didn't have to raise children the workday could be extended to
recapture that labor time for the money economy) . The net cost to
Britain of a new immigrant just off the boat is nill. You do the math.
And these economics are very evident in the actual PRACTICE of the
capitalists once you strip away the smokescreen of rhetoric.
For example, white countries trip all over themselves to get nuclear
scientists and doctors and everybody like that from third world
countries. Because of my work, I listen to NASA press conferences all
the time. The administrator and very top project manager or program head
are usually white male 'mericans. The press person chairing the thing,
or the official NASA spokesperson (with some grandiloquent title like,
director of jupiterean flatulence at NASA headquarters) is more likely
than not Black or Latino or a woman. But all the rocket scientists and
gear heads and computer geeks and so on about half the time are
immigrants (and a good number of the "Americans" are women). You
should've heard the presser today about Black holes. It sounded like a
UN session. Hell, even the "American" on the space station is an import.
Michael Foale, if I remember the name right, he's a Brit. Which is ok,
close enough, as close as you get to being a REAL 'merican without
having been born here male and white, which is probably why they let him
go up there with Sasha, the Russian cosmonaut.
But what is true of complex human labor is also true of abstract human
labor in general, just totally generic, totally average labor power.
That's *HOW* the United States became the richest country in the world.
For many centuries it got huge bunches of ready-to-exploit labor power
for free, in the sense of not having to grow its own. That's a lot of
what was behind the slave trade. In economic terms, immigration
represents a net economic subsidy from the country of origin to the
receiving country that today is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars
to the receiving country per adult immigrant.
That's why in a country like the United States, for example, the ruling
class can see its way clear to putting half a million troops in Vietnam
or 150,000 in Iraq, or even a division or two in Japan, Germany or Korea
(just for old times' sake, you understand) but when it comes to
mustering more than a squad to "guard" a dozen miles of border, all of a
sudden the problems become insurmountable. The terrible expense! The
utter inconvenience! And so on.
Give me a fucking break. They don't have the First Armored Corps on the
Mexican border because they don't WANT to. All the rest of it is
NOW that "we" are in a "war on terrorism" in which the immigrant is
enemy number one, the immigration Gestapo has been tripled to something
like four or five thousand jack-booted thugs to guard the ENTIRE
Canadian and the ENTIRE Mexican border, AND all ports of entry, AND
deport the 10 million or more already here illegally, plus roust the
ones that are here legally and shouldn't be because they have bad
thoughts or go to the wrong church or speak with a funny accent.
But they've ALSO got a million state and local cops and a million
private rent-a-pigs and a law that says to them all, THOU SHALT NOT
ENFORCE FEDERAL IMMIGRATION STATUTES.
If my local constabulary in DeKalb County picks up someone for being an
"illegal alien," then a violation of the law has taken place. No, I'm
not thinking about the law that says the person picked up shouldn't be
here, but the one that says local cops do not have the authority to even
ASK about whether you're allowed to be here.
That law, BTW, is the U.S. Constitution as interpreted by the Supremes.
They say immigration matters are completely, totally and absolutely off
limits to the state and local governments. Since the Supremes had no
trouble figuring out good constitutional reasons why the guy who lost
the last election should be president, I'm sure they could figure out
why the local cops have to enforce immigration laws -- if that's what
the ruling class wanted. The plain fact is the ruling class doesn't want
it. The way things are, and have been, for decades, is just fine, from
the capitalists' point of view.
For that reason, the idea that the U.S. ruling class, to use the example
I know best, has an anti "illegal" immigration policy just simply
doesn't stand the giggle test. What they have is an anti-"illegal
immigrant" policy, just like in the old South they didn't have an
anti-slavery policy, they just had an anti-the-people-who-are-slaves
policy, to keep them slaves. And from what I know, though I'm hardly an
expert on Europe, on this, as on so many other things, the U.S. rulers
have merely copied long-standing practice from Europe. The approach of
the imperialist ruling classes in general is similar, as far as I can
The bourgeois reticence is solely to OPENLY adopt unrestricted
immigration as a policy, and it comes from a couple of different
Mostly, it is a matter of money, as with all things bourgeois. If
workers exploitable at an average pay rate of, say, $12 an hour are a
GOOD THING, then workers exploitable at $10/hour are EVEN BETTER, and
folks you can exploit at $3-$6/hour are absolute ecstasy. By declaring
millions of workers an unclean, accursed caste, unworthy of the
protections of our laws, inferior beings who have no rights a white man
is bound to respect, you get BOTH $3-$6/hour labor AND a great club to
force down the wage scales of the working class as a whole from $12 to
$10. Of course, then the whole trick becomes to let the immigrants in
but KEEP THEM ILLEGAL.
Second, even though I believe that behind even the lowliest $20 traffic
ticket stand nuclear missiles with MIRVed warheads, the ruling class
does not rule by repression alone, but also by maintaining political and
ideological hegemony within society. Capitalist ruler types know it,
even though we must admit that we're not dealing with some of the
brightest bulbs on the Christmas tree, but mostly with people who are so
abysmally stupid they believe even the very lies that they themselves
invented -- see Bush and the Iraqi WMD's for example. But these jerks, a
good layer of them, get totally freaked out about having to hegemonize
and assimilate such a huge mass of immigrants. U.S. Republican think
tanks, for example, still blame the early 1900's immigration for the
rise of industrial unions in the 1930s. "Too many wops," they mutter
under their breath, "that was the problem." Wop, of course, being an
insulting nickname for Italian that comes from the immigration officer
abbreviation for "without papers."
That's a lot of what's behind Bush's "bracero program on steroids"
That's why I think it is misguided and dangerous for socialists to try
to come up with immigration policies for bourgeois imperialist states
(and not just -- Argentina, for example, has something like a half
million or one million "illegals" from its neighbors). Because this is a
field where there is massive hypocrisy, and where every single one of
THEIR official statements, statutes and guidelines is a lie.
I don't really believe that if it wanted to, the U.S. ruling class
couldn't have prevented 10 million or more "illegals" from getting into
the country and staying. Of course they could. They could *easily* make
it impossible for them to work, after all, they ARE the capitalist class
and they do all the hiring. The point is, the capitalists don't WANT to
keep them out. It suits their purposes just fine BOTH to have immigrants
AND to have them be "illegal."
This REAL policy --let them come, but keep them "illegal"-- is not an
accident or unconscious.
We should DENOUNCE their policy for what it REALLY is, and counterpose
our demands for full rights for immigrants to THAT, their REAL policy.
(And, as appropriate, partial demands flowing therefrom, in the U.S.
case right now, access to drivers licenses, for example -- I'm not at
all advocating a DeLeonist "all or nothing" ultraleft abstentionist
approach. On this Marxists should, as a first approximation, simply
ADOPT the immediate demands of immigrant movements, understanding that
those who would seek to teach should first LEARN.)
Arguing in the abstract about immigration levels, enforcement, border
controls, mechanisms, qualifications and criteria for visas and work
permits, quotas and all the rest of it, which is where the ruling class
wants to take the discussion, is a trap for us and our class. Basically,
we don't give a shit how they do their bookkeeping, in the words of the
poet, we want our rights, and we don't care how.
We should also counterpose our socialist vision of a world sisterhood of
peoples with no borders to divide us against how the capitalists run
THEIR world. But I think counterposing an "open borders" immediate
*demand* as an isolated measure or (much, much worse) more or less
restrictive controls on immigration misses the HEART of the matter in
the capitalists' immigration policy, which has to do with how they
exploit and superexploit labor, and not how they organize "legal"
immigration, border checks and everything else like that. The
immigration rules from my point of view are a diversionary side show
EXCEPT insofar as they have to do directly with the rights, privileges
and immunities working people (especially "illegal" people) have in a
And that should determine our response to the ruling class, which should
be, basically, fuck you and the horse you rode into town on. And we do
that by demanding full civil, economic, political, human and every other
kind of right, entitlement, immunity or privilege that working people
have been able to extract even part-way from these capitalist bastards
for ALL our class sisters and brothers.
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