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Sam Pritchard 🌹 @thucydiplease
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So, the "left" critics of open borders are obviously disingenuous, racist, and in some cases barely-crypto fascists, but it's still worth talking about why open borders are important, from a socialist perspective. We don't have to take seriously the bad actors to articulate this.
If I have one major criticism of Marx and many other Western socialist thinkers, it's that they dramatically underestimated/ignored/were themselves too immersed in nationalism, racism, patriarchy, and other modes of dividing workers against each other.
Engels was a good example. Ultimately he couldn't escape all the ideological currents of his time and place, buying into anti-Irish racism that deemed the Irish biologically inferior and stating that the English workers could never achieve socialism until "free" of the Irish
Does this mean we throw out everything Engels wrote? No, absolutely not. But it needs to be assessed because it helps us understand the blind spots of these thinkers. Particularly, how capitalism did not, in fact, rationalize and make uniform the global proletariat.
Marx and Engels, in particular, predicted a universalized proletarian class as the bourgeoisie and capitalism would progressively worsen the conditions of all workers. Precarity was a big part of this--how all workers would be at risk of slipping into penury, unemployment, etc
As greater numbers of workers slipped from security into the reserve army of labor, and the distinction between these groups eroded, a universalizing, class-consciousness of all workers would develop. This is contingent on *similar material conditions for workers*
Now, in the 19th century, it's no wonder this was the prediction, as early industrialization was indeed an immiserating, impoverishing process that dislocated and dispossessed ever-larger numbers of workers in Europe and America. As a trend, it was grim.
This process, however, was essentially halted and even reversed for *some* workers in the West in the 20th century, through a combination of empire, racism, and social democracy.
In effect, the precarity inherent to Marx's vision of the proletariat--that all workers either had or would soon have "one foot already in the swamp of pauperism--was greatly diminished or even eliminated for subsets of workers.
When the reserve army of labor is *racialized* or *nationalized*, this creates a security of position, a diminishment of precarity and union between workers. Those in the privileged racial caste and/or national proletariat gain security that they won't fall into the reserve army
And, in turn, those in the reserve army are placed there firmly. The reserve army becomes, in this process, not a fear for all workers and a drive to unite against the forces pushing them all into precarity, but a floor, a foundation upon which privileged workers find security
This is often a self-reinforcing process, as relatively secure workers realize that they need the reserve army of precarious workers to remain fixed, demarcated from the active workers by relatively inflexible categories, especially inherited ones like race
If there are no rigid distinctions between active and reserve armies of labor--if these subsets of the working class are indeed universalized, rationalized, made uniform--then everyone is once more at risk of penury, as they were in the 19th century
If, however, white workers can be assured that their chances of falling into the reserve army of labor are substantially smaller than black workers, for example, then they will endeavor to police this social and economic border. Hence the notion of an "internal colony"
Borders between the working class exist not only at the level of the nation, but within nations. Race, gender, caste, religion, color, national origin, etc. These are also borders--vicious, reactionary borders.
In the post-war heyday of Western social democracy--the age which people like Nagle, Jacobin editors, and Proctor fetishize and idealize--the working class found itself effectively divided between secure workers and insecure workers as *heritable castes*.
The relatively secure, active army of labor knew that they could count on good jobs, pensions, lifelong employment, homeownership, political representation, etc. They knew this because the reserve army of labor, precarious and poor, was enforced as a distinct caste
When social mobility is low--including, or perhaps especially downward mobility--that is, when class is inherited, the active working class need not unite with the reserve workers. In fact, they need only police the border between the subsets of workers, and ensure their security
It wasn't only intra-national distinctions that effected this de-rationalization, de-universalization of the working class. It was, to an even greater extent, international. Empire, colonialism, globalization. This pushed the precarious reserve army to other countries altogether
This had several effects. In particular, it made the colonized Global South--the periphery of empire--the locus of revolution, because this is where the workers were indeed universalized and all precarious. All were being made worse off.
When Western capital made whole nations of people into reserve armies of labor for a global system of trade, this fomented revolution in these countries, while diminishing it at home. Thus, the Cold War. Thus, capitalists seeing socialism everywhere as an existential threat
Because socialism anywhere *was* an existential threat to Western capitalism. Take away the Global South from the capitalist system of global trade, and you end up without a heritable caste of precarious labor. Suddenly the secure workers are at risk again.
And so the West engaged in decades of war and terror to keep nations outside the imperial core impoverished, their labor weak and unable to organize, and crucially their labor and resources easily exploitable by Western capital.
What does this hinge on? Borders. Internal and external borders that divide workers into stable, non-permeable, heritable sub-classes, giving active workers in the imperial core the security of their position. So much so that those workers will kill to enforce caste and borders.
When someone like Adam Proctor says he wants to maintain borders in order to keep out the reserve army of labor, he is implicitly endorsing the capitalist project. The reserve army of labor isn't a socialist enemy, they're our constituency! Yet Proctor et al treat them as enemy
What does this mean? It means that the pro-borders "left" doesn't want socialism and liberation for *all* workers. It means they want to keep some workers fixed in poverty and precarity, in order to assure the security and comfort of other workers. This is not a threat to capital
This is how capital preserves and reproduces itself. By dividing workers into essentially heritable castes. The labor aristocracy--the secure, active army of labor--can then be mobilized to defend capital. Violently. Because capital and their relative security are intertwined.
Proctor, Nagle, et al, want to "keep out" the reserve army of labor, which they effectively admit was divided from Western workers by, among other means, national borders and citizenship. They endorse this! They endorse capital's 20th-century strategy to defeat socialism!
Keep workers in e.g. Central America poor, precarious, and a reserve for capital to exploit so that workers in the USA can have *internal*, intra-caste solidarity to maintain their position as a labor aristocracy within capitalism. That is, imperialist social democracy.
This is not socialism. This is not revolutionary or liberatory. It is the openly-admitted ideology of imperialism. Why should immigration policy be designed to increase the bargaining power of workers within the USA at the expense of the bragaining power of workers outside of it?
This is taken as a given by the pro-borders "left," not justified, because the only justifications are vile. Any justification hinges on seeing the non-Western reserve army as less-deserving of security and dignity than the Western labor aristocracy.
Why is this happening? Why the longing for a nationalist, racist, imperial post-war era of social democracy at home and jackbooted thuggery abroad? Because, ironically, precarity *has* increased at home.
The successful division of the working class into relatively stable, non-permeable castes has left capital essentially unopposed. Even supported by some workers who collaborate with it. In so doing, the bourgeoisie can again, without opposition, make us all precarious again
This is where Marx is right--this is the natural tendency of unrestrained capitalism. To push us all into poverty and insecurity. It was only halted for a time because national bourgeoisies in the West realized they had to establish labor castes to prevent revolution at home
With the threat of revolution seemingly destroyed forever, the hubris of the bourgeoisie is to again resume the project of universalizing the working class worldwide--creating universal misery and disenfranchisement for workers and the enrichment of the capitalist class
But the increase in precarity has made people discontent with capitalism. When white workers in the West no longer feel that the borders between them and the precarious reserve army are solid and impermeable, they look to change this.
One answer is to reinforce the borders. Fascism, in other words. This is Trumpism, white nationalism, xenophobia, racism. Building the wall is not only literal but social and economic. It is a call to reinstate impermeable caste, as solid as it once was in the midcentury.
The other answer is true solidarity between *all* workers, active and reserve alike. Socialism. Security and dignity for everyone. The erasure of capitalist borders and the development of an international class-consciousness that includes every worker at home & abroad.
The pro-borders left truly is the left-wing of fascism. The right-wing of fascism is focused exclusively on the rebuilding of heritable labor castes as sufficient to restore their imagined golden age. The left-wing of fascism wants this, but also Medicare for All. Great.
Nevertheless, both wings of fascism remain fully united in the mission to preserve, enhance, and buttress the borders that divide secure, active workers from precarious, reserve workers. Their disagreements are how to go about this and how to ensure security for the privileged
What we need isn't to keep Central Americans out, keep them poor and insecure and exploitable for the benefit of workers in the USA. What we need is to welcome them in and develop a class consciousness among American workers that these are their class allies. That we are the same
We must *dismantle* the borders capital erects between the labor aristocracy/active labor army and the impoverished and precarious reserve, if we ever hope to unite all workers in a conscious proletariat against the bourgeoisie
This means attacking racism, nationalism, xenophobia, patriarchy, etc. Not ignoring them, or collaborating in enforcing them. The less-openly fascistic pro-borders left merely advocates for *ignoring* these borders, while focusing on a positive program of social democracy at home
If we are to be generous, they are sincere but simply wrong. They think you can develop a class consciousness among the working class by simply ignoring the material, economic, social, and national borders that exist. Just pretend we're all united and we will be!
At best, this is infantile, magical thinking. At worst it is the subtle, initial lure to divert possible socialists onto a path leading to openly violent border/caste enforcement.
We can't put the cart before the horse. Workers won't develop a universal class consciousness until they are *materially* unified. For people claiming to be hard-nosed materialists, this gives lie to their project.
You can't make workers unite just by wishing it so. You must create the *material conditions* for unity by dismantling the borders between workers. Fuck your borders, fuck your castes, and fuck your left-wing fascism.
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