HUMANS are a social species. We work collectively and under the current system, capitalism, we are exploited collectively. The system benefits from the work we do together, and uses artificial divisions to keep us fighting ourselves, rather than fighting FOR better conditions or (heavens forfend!) a better system! One of our rulers/bosses favourite means of sowing division is the simple accident of where we are born and it’s twin sisters, race and religion.
There are few “natural” borders, mostly seas and mountain ranges, but even fewer nations which define themselves by reference to them. Borders are not visible from space (the one exception being the Great Wall of China: and that is no longer a border!). Borders are not always defined by language, race or kinship. Belgium was an invented nation, created as a buffer zone to isolate France. In the Middle East and Africa, many borders look like they drawn on a map with a ruler; that is because they were, largely by English and French pens! The distinction between a Catholic Croat and an Orthodox Serb was which side of the border of the (Catholic) Austro-Hungarian Empire they were born: the ethnicity and language (Serbo-Croat) are virtually identical. In the old Jugoslavia it was unexceptional to have Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Moslems in the same family. Modern Macedonia is a patchwork quilt of 17 separate identifiable cultures. There is nothing “natural” about borders!
Under capitalism, finance and resources can flow freely through borders; only people cannot. And not all people are affected equally. For the rich, borders are porous; for workers they are porous only when they are needed to enhance the profits of the rich; for refugees they are scarcely porous at all. Borders are used almost exclusively to the long-term detriment of workers, most particularly in a time of war, via nationalism.
Nationalism is used to create a false solidarity between the rulers and the ruled. At the beginning of the 20th century, the ruling families of England, Germany and Russia were all inter-related and very amicable. The English monarchy changed their German surnames during WW1, to sound more “English”, more patriotic: they chose one of their castles – Windsor!
The strategic objectives of war are exclusively in the interests of those in power. The acquisition of territory, trade routes , resources (oil, food, minerals etc) increases profit levels, with only marginal impact on wages or conditions. The people that do the dying, however, are the workers and the poor, particularly if they are from ethnic minorities: even in death they divide us!
After the last World War, the U.K. suffered a labour shortage. This was not surprising, given the large numbers of economically active workers slaughtered either on the Frontline or in civilian bombing. Britain’s answer was…..the suspension of borders! The vile racist, Enoch Powell, was despatched to Barbados to encourage inward migration to Britain. A decade later, with the economic boom spent, the very same individual was spearheading the attempt to deport the families of the very same immigrants. The cyclical economic crash was blamed on these scapegoats to undermine any unified attempt by workers to resist a bosses offensive and hang onto their pay and conditions. Borders are bad for you; borders give the bosses scapegoats; borders undermine workers’ struggles….if they are allowed to!
The majority of the Left has been duped by borders. Some aspire to a “Left-Wing Nationalism”. Personally, I cannot see how a philosophy designed in its very nature to divide workers on national lines can be used to unite progressive struggles. Every war this country has waged has been reinforced by nationalism without question!
Some seek to compromise with the capitalist system and its artificial borders. They believe that social justice and equality can be achieved and maintained within them. Can there be compromise with a system designed entirely to divide and keep a majority of the people enslaved by unequal relations? If you are fighting an enemy that can vanish through borders that only you honour, can you win? If you then say it is not your enemy, why are you attempting to compromise with it, limit its destructive power? Because of the divisive nature of capitalism, its competition and unequal sharing, its wars and destructive forces, any effective opposition must unite and be equal. It must be prepared to chase it through borders. It must be international.
Unity in action of the Left will not happen overnight. Too many harbour bitter recriminations over the Brexit vote, or are too wedded to a particular strategy. Digging through the entrails, like a modern soothsayer, will not take us forward. However, there are immediate tasks that take us some way to recognising the poisonous legacy of borders. They are simple, achievable and required. They lead towards unity.
We must take action of some kind, almost ANY kind, to defend the refugee youngsters of Calais and Dunkirk. Collect money; visit the scene of the crime (make sure of this: a crime IS being committed); write to your MP and local paper to support the Dubs Amendment (currently being shredded by HM Government). Let us, in the name of humanity ignore the bloody border and rescue 3000 young human beings from hell.
We must defend EU migrant workers in Britain and support their right to remain. Ignore the lies, we are talking about people who have been here for years, not summer fruit pickers! We are talking about nurses, teachers, retail workers and office staff. They are our friends, colleagues, neighbours and fellow union members. They have partners and children and relatives who are British citizens. Love doesn’t recognise borders, race or sexuality. They are humanity, and all humanity should have the right to live where they have their home. They should have the rights that we do, the same pay and conditions as their fellow workers. We should unite with them as a source of strength, not allow borders to divide us.
And finally, we must place these two simple and unifying demands into an overall anti-racist strategy that stops the bosses from dividing us and profiting from our resulting weakness. Tony Benn once said that workers should pay attention to the way its ruling class treated refugees, since it showed how they would like to treat all of us. Never has that been more obvious. We must not let them!