Are open borders possible?

27 November, 2020

Migrant shipwreck in the Canary Islands.

There is no day without new shipwrecks in the Canary Islands, no new day where the miserable situation of the refugee camps in the Mediterranean or the defenselessness of undocumented migrants improves or ceases to be frightening. Migration has become synonymous with broken families, extreme labor abuses and repressive policies.

When this situation concerns the states, the much touted human rights approach so fervently advocated by governments and Brussels to defend intellectual property or ecclesiastical privileges disappears. Everything is reduced to repatriating and funding countries of passage and origin in order to repress migration. A policy that has cost thousands and thousands of lives, even if we are only aware of brief glimpses: 13,000 migrants abandoned to die of thirst in the Algerian desert for instance.

Yesterday at the summit in Palma, the governments of Italy and Spain, presented a front with Malta and Greece. They argued that they cannot cope with all the migratory pressure, that the assistance funds they receive from Brussels during each wave are not enough and that even the small fraction of migrants who are recognized as refugees are too many and have to be shared out through compulsory quotas.

The European Commission indirectly agrees with them. Yesterday it presented a plan for social cohesion and integration of the 34 million European residents born outside the EU. The nonsense is evident: the Polish migrant would be enjoying the delights of a perfectly integrated European social model, due to some mysterious common values, while the Ukrainian resident, born perhaps a few tens of kilometers away from the previous one, would generate by his mere residence a challenge to the European way of life. In fact, we all know that they are not talking about them, just as they are not talking about the British, Argentines, or Americans: they hide under the numbers of non-EU-born people the fear of what they call the radicalization of the abandoned and ethnicized working class neighborhoods in which the political Islam of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafism win proselytes, terrifying the states that see the hand of their imperialist rivals underneath. The European program would feed part of the costs of the attempts of political reaffirmation of the states under a discourse that converts the migrants of countries with a Muslim majority into suspects of fifth columnism. Nice way to promote social cohesion.

Let’s go back to the migratory flows: if we listen to the political representatives of the angry petty bourgeoisie, they are competing in inhumanity with the governments: Vox would like to send the fleet in the style of the criminal policy routinely pursued by Australia, which has cost thousands of lives and is complemented by infamous extraterritorial detention camps and now by prison ships.

Unfortunately this is not a mere exotic or exalted counterpoint in order to force the governmental position to be accepted as a balanced position. The German government, without daring to promote the use of the navy against migrants – that is what its African partner governments are for – is already defending the creation of concentration camps outside the EU borders exactly like those in Australia. Great Britain is studying the adoption of a similar model.

Why is migration a problem?

Burial of the corpse of a migrant in the desert.

In 2018 the refugees were a weapon in the quarrels between the EU states. Later, in the latest refugee crisis, just before the outbreak of the pandemic, the relationship between imperialist wars and migratory flows was not only evident, but also how refugees and migrants were turned into tools by the different powers to put pressure on each other was obvious to everyone paying attention. The same game was repeated on a larger scale destroying more and more lives.

During the first wave of the Covid, the game of the agrarian petty bourgeoisie became clear: the same people who organized xenophobic demonstrations were complaining about not having enough migrants to exploit at miserable wages. The migrant workers who managed to become exploited became, thanks to the miserable conditions in which their bosses kept them and the need to go from one country to another after harvests, the starting point of a new strain that has been a main character during the second wave.

Now the situation in the Canary Islands has made evident the disaster in the Sahel and Morocco, with thousands of workers caught between a rampant crisis that condemns them to hunger and an imperialist war incited from the EU states.

One does not need to be a genius in order to realize that the migratory flows so feared by the European states are not, as we are told, a new problem. Rather, they are the new result of at least two old systemic contradictions: on the one hand, the inability of capital to keep increasing what is its raison d’être, to exploit more labor power profitably. On the other, inextricably linked to the above, the growing virulence of the imperialist interests of each national capital, which needs to maintain zones of influence in order to secure markets and placements of capital.

Every step they take to address the disaster and chaos generated by the system only elevates these contradictions to a higher and more anti-human level, crushing more and more people at every step.

Is it true that there is no room for everyone? Is it true that a world without borders would be unworkable?

Refugees running away from Idlib.

For centuries the Greek slave classes exemplified the need for slavery with the grain mill. Assuming that the only way to move the wheel was with people driving it, they made it clear that the only alternative to the exploitation of slaves was for everyone to work as slaves. An option that, of course, was not going to be imposed by the consensual will of those who were free from such heavy work. That is why, they argued, slavery would always exist.

Millers, spare the power of the arm that spins the millstone and sleep peacefully! May the rooster warn you in vain that it is already daytime! Give the nymphs the work of the slaves, and see how they jump joyfully on the path, moving the axle of the wheel with their spokes, and spinning the heavy rolling stone! Let us live the life of our fathers, and, idle, rejoice in the gifts which the goddess bestows!

Antipater of Thessalonica celebrating in the second century the invention of the water mill as the end of slavery and the entrance to an era of abundance

When the watermill was invented and the hitherto omnipresent argument ceased to make sense, the poet Antipater of Thessalonica celebrated the invention not as the end of the argument, but as the end of slavery. He was obviously wrong. The ancient aristocracy did not defend the slave system because of a lack of better ways to organize production, or because it was necessary to maintain social welfare, but because slavery was necessary to preserve its status as an exploiting class.

Something similar happens with the arguments against the end of borders. If capitalism is taken for granted, there is indeed little to be done. Today’s capitalism is opposed to human development, is a decadent system, and this is expressed in its permanent contradiction with the workers and in general with the rest of productive forces. Let’s see:

  • if the working class grows, as the system is unable to exploit us all, it attacks our living conditions;
  • if life expectancy increases, as the portion of production that goes to remunerating capital instead of wages is overwhelming, it attacks the livelihoods of the retired;
  • if new knowledge and technologies increasing the physical productivity of labor are developed and we can produce more by spending less hours, as capital has nowhere to sell more production, instead of reducing poverty and improving living standards, it increases unemployment and precariousness.

And we could go on almost infinitely enumerating contradictions. But no one – except a few enthusiastic genocidaires – argues that we should reduce life expectancy, forgo science, or stop technological development because capitalism systematically turns these into poverty and scarcity.

However, migrations -the main form of growth of the proletariat in an epoch in which capitalism is incapable of making the proletariat grow in the great majority of semicolonial countries– must be stopped because, they argue, wages are falling. The hypocrisy is self-explanatory: the anti-scientific or technophobic discourse does not produce direct profits for anyone through discrimination, xenophobia, like all systematic discriminations, does. The discourse of there is no room for all, is nothing but discriminatory hypocrisy.

But let’s go back to the central question. Across the list above, it is clear what is the term which reverses the progressive sense of every human advance. If we can live longer but the system cannot allow it without impoverishing us, the problem is not aging, the problem is the system. If we can know more and develop better technologies that serve to satisfy the needs of more people, but the system does not know how to do anything else with them than to turn them into tools promoting unemployment and poverty, the problem is not science, nor technology, but the system. If we can work fewer hours producing more but this is ignored in order to increase profits while condemning millions to unemployment, the problem is not robots or AI, the problem is the system. And even though we can employ more workers and produce in order to meet the needs of all, the system is only able to exploit more workers if it is able to extract even more profit from them… the problem, of course, is not the migrants.

Borders today are in themselves a contradiction. Each national capital needs them in order to protect itself from its competition, to configure a culture according to its needs and constrain its social contradictions – including among different groups of the ruling class – in the state. But at the same time each national capital bears the burden of the other capitals’ contradictions: it needs to find markets to make up for its endemic lack of internal demand capable of paying for all production, it needs investment opportunities elsewhere to place the accumulated capital that has no profitable placements in its internal market…

The ways of trying to overcome these contradictions are too well known to us and are not an overcoming at all. Rather, they aggravate these contradictions: free trade zones and international organizations like the EU that end up acting as accelerators, boycotts and sanctions, trade and currency wars, armed wars… As we have seen, migrations are a product of all of the above and express in turn the tendency of capitalism itself to destroy the borders it creates.

But it is difficult to imagine why a society which does not produce in order to increase the profits of capital but instead produces in order to satisfy human needs would need borders and tolls. Moreover, it is impossible to imagine that borders could be anything other than a dangerous hindrance in the process of overcoming the current system. Borders today are only necessary for capitalism and yet they hinder its needs. We workers, Humanity, have no possible future that does not involve freeing ourselves from them and from the system producing them. The sooner the better.

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