By Michael Pröbsting (International Secretary of the RCIT) and Andrew Walton (RCIT Aotearoa / New Zealand), 27.3.2017, www.thecommunists.net
In this epoch of global capitalism, we are experiencing a period of decay, war, climate catastrophes and social misery spreading throughout the world exponentially. Hundreds of millions of people are under pressure to flee their homelands. For example, nearly a third (32.1%) of all people in sub-Saharan Africa are willing to move abroad given the misery of life in their homelands. (1)
In the last few decades, millions of people from the South have succeeded in reaching the relatively wealthy regions of North America, Western Europe and Oceania. In the US, the share of migrants among the general population rose from 5.2% (1960) to 12.3% (2000) to more than 14% (2010). In Western Europe, the migrants’ share of the population grew from about 4.6% (1960) to nearly 10% (2010). (2) More than half of the 214 million migrants worldwide are living in these two imperialist regions. (3) According to a study of the International Institute for Labour Studies, all told, in the year 2000, 66% of all migrants worked in so-called high-income countries and another 14% in high-middle income countries – a share which is surely even higher today, nearly two decades after the study was conducted. (4)
This development has caused alarm bells to ring among the ruling classes, as they only desire to allow a controlled migration enter into their states, while precluding an uncontrolled influx of millions of plebeian refugees with no loyalty to the imperialist state, and who originate from regions replete with civil wars and insurrections.
This wave of migration to the West has given rise to ever-increasing chauvinism against migrants – which manifests itself in heightened state control and restrictions on immigration, as well as the emergence and growth of racist parties (which actually includes the phenomenon of the coming to power of Donald Trump). Thus the issue of migration is becoming more and more crucial to the workers movement.
Traditionally, the reformist labour movement supported capitalist immigration control, as the bureaucratic leadership of the unions sought to gradually improve the labour aristocracy's well being by uniting with the capitalist class against the "foreign" workers coming from poorer countries.
Similarly, Stalinists and even some centrist organizations (like the CWI of Peter Taaffe) have always been hostile to the slogan of “open borders.”
Marxists have always defended the interests of the international working class. Hence they refuse to defend the supposed interests of a privileged minority of the proletariat in the rich countries against the vast majority of the world proletariat living in the South. For this reason Marxists have always opposed immigration control by the imperialist states and have supported the right of people to move freely. This is the position which the RCIT has always defended both in its propaganda as well as in its practical work within the workers’ movement and in its solidarity work with refugees. (5)
A Supposedly "Left" Version of Immigration Control
While we have elaborated the Marxist case for open borders on numerous occasions, recently we encountered an ostensibly "left" version of migration control originating with a group which usually takes authentic left-wing positions on issues. We’re referring to an article published by the Communist Workers Group in Aotearoa / New Zealand – a group which is united with comrades in the US, Zimbabwe and Brazil in the "Liaison Committee of Communists." (6) Here we will deal with the position expressed in the recent article, as it purports to represent an "anti-capitalist" version of migration control.
In its article, the CWG(A/NZ) discusses – from its perspective – the various problems caused by migration. They include under the category of “migrants” both rich capitalists as well as labour migrants. Their main programmatic conclusion is – as expressed in the article’s headline – is to call for "workers’ control of migration."
While the article deals only with Aotearoa / New Zealand and hence raises the slogan for "workers’" control of immigration only for that specific country, the entire logic of its arguments suggests that the CWG/LCC would generalize this slogan for other countries facing waves of migration (e.g. Australia, USA, Europe).
Are There "Exceptional" Conditions in New Zealand?
The CWG/LCC tries to justify its support for “workers'” migration control by referring to the exceptional conditions of New Zealand. They claim that many wealthy Chinese are coming to the island and buying houses has resulted in a steep rise in the cost of housing. Similarly, they point out the high number of foreign students coming to New Zealand to attend university. They also cite the program of New Zealand capitalists to import skilled labour forces in order to increase their profits as the skilled migrants are prepared to work for lower wages.
In fact, New Zealand has always been a land of immigration. Historically, it started as a British settler colony which subjugated and decimated the native Māori population. Subsequently, the country experienced later waves of immigration from Europe as well as from Asia and the Pacific. Today, about 15.6% of the islands’ population is Māori, 12.2% Asian, 7.8% Pacific peoples, and 1.2% have their origin in the Middle East, Latin America and Africa. The highest concentration of non-white population is found in the North Island and in particular in the country's largest city, Auckland. (7)
However, contrary to the comrades' assumptions, conditions in New Zealand are not really so exceptional. Many metropolitan areas in the West face similar conditions. One just has to consider the multi-national cities of New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris and many others. Already, in the early years of the 2000s, half of all resident workers in New York were black, Hispanics or belonged to another national minority. In inner and outer London, respectively 29% and 22%, of the residents were from ethnic minorities in 2000. (8)
Similarly, there are other Western countries where many relatively wealthy people and foreign students migrate to.
An excellent example of this is Austria. Migrants officially constitute 19.4% of the total population, and in Vienna, the capital city, this share is even higher with 38.5%. (If one includes the second and third generation of migrants, this share is even higher.). About 2/3 of these migrants either come from the Balkans, Eastern Europe or Turkey.
As in New Zealand, Austria also faces an influx of many university students and relatively wealthy people from abroad. As a neighbour of Germany sharing the same language and a similar culture, it has become a prime destination for Germans, including some wealthy and super-rich Germans. In fact, the Germans are the biggest "migrant" group, accounting for nearly 200,000 (out of a total population of 8.6 million, i.e., a proportion very similar to that of the Chinese in New Zealand). Tens of thousands of German students come to Austria's universities as the conditions to start study are stricter in Germany (German students constituting about 8.5% of all students). As a result, some Austrian students find it difficult to get accepted to university courses they choose to study. Similarly, numerous German middle class and more wealthy persons purchase houses and land in Austria (either for permanent residence or as a summer home) driving up prices. In other words, the conditions which the CWG(A/NZ) describes as so special to their own country in order to justify their adoption of a chauvinistic slogan of “workers immigration control” are not special at all!
All Version of Immigration Control are Anti-Democratic, Anti-Internationalist and Socially-Chauvinistic!
The RCIT considers the slogan of “workers’ immigration control” as an inexcusable concession to social-chauvinism. Essentially it means that the relatively well off and mostly white working class of New Zealand shall have a veto over the rights of migrants – many of them coming from poorer countries in the Pacific islands and Southeast Asia – to enter the country.
This slogan undermines the international solidarity among workers of different nations. It perpetuates the tensions between workers from richer and those from poorer countries. Thus, it helps to reproduce social-chauvinistic prejudices in the consciousness of the workers in New Zealand. And it helps to consolidate the opinion among workers and oppressed from poorer countries that the workers from the richer countries prefer solidarity with their own, white and relatively rich state, instead of solidarity with the workers and oppressed from the poorer countries.
Another example of the CWG(A/NZ) adaption to the bourgeois ideology is its different standards for migrants and political refugees. While it supports migration control for migrants it calls for "open the borders to political refugees." In this way it apes the bourgeois-liberal conception of differentiating between migrants fleeing for a legitimate cause (political refugees) and those who "merely" flee for material, economic reasons (i.e., to escape the misery in the semi-colonial world caused by imperialism)! While they support open borders for political refugees, they oppose it for “economic” migrants. Such a differentiation is unworthy of revolutionaries and only reveals the hopelessness of this organization’s method applied concretely to the conditions existing today!
What does such an attitude mean for people fleeing war (like the refugees from Syria)? Are these political refugees (who should have the right to enter the country) or are these migrants merely fleeing misery (and whose right to enter the country should be decided upon by the mostly white workers of New Zealand)? What would be the consequences of this social-chauvinist position for Europe? Should or shouldn’t revolutionaries fight for the right of the millions of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and other countries to come to Europe or not?
Migration is Not the Cause for Poverty and Unemployment!
Contrary to the myth spread by right-wing populists, migration is not the cause of poverty and unemployment! In fact, as we demonstrated in our documents, migrants are super-exploited and contribute more to the national wealth of their new country than what they receive. To give only a few examples: in Austria migrants paid €1.6 billion for social service in 2007, but received only €0.4 billion social benefits. Thus, the Austrian state appropriated €1.2 billion and used it for other purposes. (9) This example from the year 2007 is not exception but the rule, as other studies have shown. (10)
Another example of how the capitalists profit from migrants’ labour can be seen in Britain. According to the then minister for migration, Liam Byrne, the ”British economy“ gained about £6 billion in the year 2006. According to the then finance minister of UK, migrants’ labour was responsible for 15%-20% of economic growth in Britain in the years 2001-2006. (11) In our studies on migration citied above, we have given many more examples of this form of capitalist super-exploitation.
Yet another demonstration that capitalism's decay – and not migration – is the cause for increasing misery and unemployment is the case of Japan. While this country has very little immigration – its share of immigrants slightly rose from 1% in 1995 to 1.7% in 2007 – unemployment exploded in the same period from little more than 2% to 5.5%. The share of people living beyond the relative poverty line – the proportion of the population living below 50 percent of the national median income – nearly doubled from 8.1% in 1994 to 14.9% in 2005. (12)
Of course, Marxists don’t ignore the problems which the capitalists cause by utilizing migrants to increase their profits. The RCIT fights against these problems not by limiting the migrants' right to enter New Zealand or other wealthy countries, i.e., a truly revolutionary tendency concretely fights tooth and nail against these social problems on the ground, not with anti-democratic, social-chauvinist slogans!
To do so, we call for equal wages for migrants, i.e., raising their wages to the level of New Zealand workers. We call for a public employment program which would include the building of new homes so that all can have affordable housing. Such a program would ensure the ending of unemployment and would be financed by massive increases in taxation of the rich and the expropriation of the super-rich (which would naturally include the expropriation of foreign capitalists). Finally, we call on the trade unions in New Zealand to organize the migrants and to fight for equal rights.
The CWG's failure to take a Marxist position on these issues, while calling for "workers’" control of immigration, is manifested in its not raising any of these slogans which are vital in the fight against social problems, all of which are intended to build unity between domestic and migrant workers.
The Position of the Communist International
The call for migration control is a breach with the principles of proletarian internationalism and communism. Marxists have always defended the fundamental democratic right of migrants to enter other countries without restrictions. This is what Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky fought for in the past.
Therefore, the CWG's new program for immigration is in clear contradiction to the positions elaborated by the Communist International. These are elaborated in the "Theses on the Eastern Question," adopted at the Fourth Congress of the Communist International in 1922. This document unambiguously states:
"In view of the coming danger, the Communist Parties of the imperialist countries – America, Japan, Britain, Australia and Canada – must not merely issue propaganda against the war, but must do everything possible to eliminate the factors that disorganise the workers’ movement in their countries and make it easier for the capitalists to exploit national and racial antagonisms.
These factors are the immigration question and the question of cheap coloured labour.
Most of the coloured workers brought from China and India to work on the sugar plantations in the southern part of the Pacific are still recruited under the system of indentured labour. This fact has led to workers in the imperialist countries demanding the introduction of laws against immigration and coloured labour, both in America and Australia. These restrictive laws deepen the antagonism between coloured and white workers, which divides and weakens the unity of the workers’ movement.
The Communist Parties of America, Canada and Australia must conduct a vigorous campaign against restrictive immigration laws and must explain to the proletarian masses in these countries that such laws, by inflaming racial hatred, will rebound on them in the long run.
The capitalists are against restrictive laws in the interests of the free importation of cheap coloured labour and with it the lowering of the wages of white workers. The capitalists’ intention to take the offensive can be properly dealt with in only one way – the immigrant workers must join the ranks of the existing trade unions of white workers. Simultaneously, the demand must be raised that the coloured workers’ pay should be brought up to the same level as the white workers’ pay. Such a move on the part of the Communist Parties will expose the intentions of the capitalists and at the same time graphically demonstrate to the coloured workers that the international proletariat has no racial prejudice." (13)
These are the principles which Marxists today have to uphold, instead of adapting to the pressure of the labour bureaucracy and backward trends inside the workers’ movement!
Let's be clear: The RCIT considers the slogan for "workers’ control of immigration” as anti-democratic, anti-internationalist and socially-chauvinistic! The communist program on migration must include the slogan "Open Borders" which defends the right for all migrants to enter the richer countries.
This is what the RCIT and authentic revolutionaries are fighting for today! Therefore, we call upon all socialists to fight for "open borders" and for a program of complete equality for all migrants. Such a Marxist attitude must include the unambiguous condemnation of the slogan for "workers’ control of immigration" as anti-democratic, anti-internationalist and social-chauvinist.
(1) ILO: World Employment and Social Outlook – Trends 2017, p. 9
(2) See Rainer Münz/Heinz Fassmann: Migrants in Europe and their Economic Position: Evidence from the European Labour Force Survey and from Other Sources (2004), pp. 5-6 and Carlos Vargas-Silva: Global International Migrant Stock: The UK in International Comparison (2011), www.migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk, p. 5. The third region where migrants play an important role is the oil-producing states in the Middle East. We have dealt with this specific case elsewhere. See e.g., Michael Pröbsting: Die halbe Revolution. Lehren und Perspektiven des arabischen Aufstandes, in: Der Weg des Revolutionären Kommunismus, Nr. 8 (2011), p. 14, http://www.thecommunists.net/publications/werk-8
(3) See United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs: World Economic and Social Survey 2004. International Migration (2004), p. viii and United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division: Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2008 Revision (2009), p. 1 and 3
(4) Philip L. Martin: Migration and development: Toward sustainable solutions (2004), p. 4
(5) For a more detailed elaboration of the RCIT's position on migration and the internationalist program of revolutionary equality we refer readers to various documents which we have published and which are accessible on our website. See e.g., RCIT: Marxism, Migration and Revolutionary Integration, https://www.thecommunists.net/oppressed/revolutionary-integration/; Michael Pröbsting: The Great Robbery of the South, chapter 8.iv) and 14ii), https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/great-robbery-of-the-south/; Michael Pröbsting: The British Left and the EU-Referendum: The Many Faces of pro-UK or pro-EU Social-Imperialism, August 2015, Chapter II.2, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/british-left-and-eu-referendum/part-5-1/, RCIT-Program, chapter V: https://www.thecommunists.net/rcit-manifesto/fight-against-oppression-of-migrants/, RCIT-Manifesto chapter IV: https://www.thecommunists.net/rcit-program-2016/chapter-iv/; and various actual statements and articles here: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/articles-on-refugees/. See also Michael Pröbsting: Migration and Super-exploitation: Marxist Theory and the Role of Migration in the present Period of Capitalist Decay, in: Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory (Volume 43, Issue 3-4, 2015), pp. 329-346. We have also published a detailed study on migration and the Marxist program in German. See Michael Pröbsting: Marxismus, Migration und revolutionäre Integration (2010); in: Der Weg des Revolutionären Kommunismus, Nr. 7, pp. 38-41, http://www.thecommunists.net/publications/werk-7
(6) CWG(A/NZ): Aotearoa.NZ: For Workers’ Control of Migration, March 17, 2017, http://redrave.blogspot.co.at/2017/03/aotearoanz-for-workers-control-of.html
(7) See: New Zealand in Profile: 2015, http://www.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/snapshots-of-nz/nz-in-profile-2015.aspx
(8) See Peter Dicken: Global Shift. Mapping The Changing Contours Of The World Economy (Sixth Edition), The Guilford Press, New York 2011, p. 496
(9) See Hans Gmundner: Straches Handlangerdienste, KPÖ, 10.11.07, http://www.kpoe.at/index.php?id=23&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=105&tx_ttnews[backPid]=2&cHash=7fe484e968
(10) See Gudrun Biffl: Die Zuwanderung von Ausländern nach Österreich. Kosten-Nutzen-Überlegungen und Fragen der Sozialtransfers (1997), WIFO, p. 8
(11) House of Lords (Britain): Report - Economic Impact of Migration in UK (2008), p. 22
(12) See Poverty In Japan: Homeless People, Working Poor And Living In Capsule Hotels, http://factsanddetails.com/japan/cat19/sub120/item640.html; Gabriele Vogt: Bevölkerungsentwicklung in Japan: Fokus Migration, Berlin-Instituts für Bevölkerung und Entwicklung, 2008, p. 3
(13) Communist International: Theses on the Eastern Question, Fourth Congress of the Communist International, December 1922, in: Jane Degras: The Communist International 1919-1943. Documents. Volume I 1919-1922, pp. 391-392, http://marxists.org/history/international/comintern/4th-congress/eastern-question.htm
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