Imperialism, mass migration, and the far right

BY:Corbin Westkaemper| May 15, 2024
Imperialism, mass migration, and the far right


This piece is a contribution to the Pre-Convention Discussion for our 32nd National Convention. During Pre-Convention Discussion, all aspects of the party’s program, strategy, and tactics are up for consideration and debate. The ideas presented here are those of the author or authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Communist Party USA, its membership, or their elected leadership bodies. — Editors

There is one single issue that has animated the far right in the imperial core above all others in the last decade, and that is the issue of immigration. Anti-Immigration platforms propelled Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency, drove the U.K. to leave the E.U., and took a brand-new far-right party in Germany from fringe cranks to the second largest party in parliament in just 10 years. Given the staggering energy this issue has delivered to the right, immigration questions demand our attention.

The immigration question isn’t new. The U.S. experienced large-scale migration from Europe across the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Engels wrote about the effects of Irish Immigration on the English working class in On The Condition of the Working Class in England. In both cases, these waves of migration were driven by crisis conditions. In the U.S. case, this was by the worsening conditions of the European proletariat. In the case of Irish migration to England, this was by the combination of British imperialism and close proximity. However, the migration of today is of unprecedented scale, and unlike the examples mentioned above, the crisis conditions that produce these migration waves are not going away. They are driven not by a short lived crisis, but by the global system of imperialism created by capitalism. The scale is enabled by the modern scale of imperialism, combined with the falling cost of transport. The social consequences are obvious, as Engels said in On The Condition of the Working Class in England,

With such a competitor the English working-man has to struggle, with a competitor upon the lowest plane possible in a civilized country, who for this very reason requires less wages than any other. Nothing else is therefore possible than that, as Carlyle says, the wages of English working-man should be forced down further and further in every branch in which the Irish compete with him. — Engels

Migration swells the ranks of the reserve army of the unemployed, creates downward wage pressure, and creates opportunities for the right-wing to divide the working class among itself.

One of the reasons that the far right is so activated by this issue is that liberals are unwilling to acknowledge the problem at all. They deny these things are happening, or attempt to re-frame them as positive. How can we apply the communist perspective to this problem to produce useful results? First and foremost, our perspective has explanatory power that theirs lacks. The more ideologically committed right wingers, who openly approve of the capitalist and imperialist institutions that produced these crises, are forced to invent outrageous explanations for why these crises keep recurring. It’s the World Economic Forum, it’s the World Health Organization, its someone else — none of these can really convince a sensible ordinary person unless no other competing perspectives exist. Mass migration derives from the impact of capitalist imperialism. Capitalists super-exploit peripheral nations, drive migration as people seek a better life, then use the migration to grow their profits in the imperial core. Understanding this is simple and intuitive to the average person provided they are actually exposed to the idea. This explanation clearly highlights both the actual ways to resolve these crises, as well as the hypocrisies of the far right figures who claim to have a solution.

Given the way corporate media discusses migration, the average U.S. worker’s first thought on solving the immigration problem may be simplistic — a nebulous concept of “securing” or “closing” the border. This is an idea that’s discussed openly, and has a wing of mainstream U.S. politics dedicated to advocating for it. So, the intuitive solution is to simply vote for the far right, which promises to close the border. However, this won’t work for two reasons: the practical and the political. The practical explanation is that the border is large, and use of fortifications and surveillance to restrict crossings isn’t effective. The second, and more important, is political; the politicians who claim they will solve these problems have no actual reason to do so. The Republican Party is a thoroughly capitalist party, and their bourgeois supporters, big and small, profit from mass migration. The point of so-called immigration “enforcement” isn’t to actually restrict migration. It subjects the super-exploited migrant workers to state terror. Rumblings of a union? Deport the people and start from scratch. This is revealed by looking at any far right candidates’ actual actions. In recent events, Greg Abbot’s conflict over the border was over a segment of barbed wire 30 miles long — an infinitesimally small fragment of the Texas Border that won’t “secure” anything. Even looking beyond the United States, the Tories in the UK and Georgia Meloni in Italy have utterly failed to restrict immigration in any meaningful sense.

So what can be done? The guiding principle should be, first and foremost, that we cannot empower the working class by supporting bourgeois state terror against workers. Far right enforcement strategies are doomed to failure. The enemy is not the migrant worker seeking to better their life, it is the exploiting capitalist who pits workers against each other for their profit. We cannot win by pitting segments of the working class against each other, or by celebrating the national character of bourgeois society, but through solidarity and internationalism. We must push to criminalize and end the exploitation of migrants, and to create the conditions where they possess the same rights and dignity in labor as everyone else. We must work together against capitalist exploitation. If we fight among each other, or collaborate with the capitalists to get our piece of the pie, we are all doomed in the end. It will not be an easy path, but it is the only path that takes us where we want to go.


    Corbin Westkaemper is an activist with the Dallas Forth Worth Club, CPUSA.

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