Workers Vanguard No. 1083
12 February 2016
Immigration, Racism and Anti-Communism
Reprinted below is an article from Spartacist Canada No. 187 (Winter 2015/2016), publication of the Trotskyist League/Ligue Trotskyste. The original article was based on a presentation given by Miriam McDonald at a Trotskyist League/Spartacus Youth Club class in Toronto on October 29.
One could not find a more powerful indictment of the present imperialist order than the waves of desperate people currently seeking refuge in racist “Fortress Europe.” The U.S.-led wars and occupations in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere have destroyed these countries, ravaged their economies and robbed their peoples of their already meagre livelihoods. Life is so intolerable that hundreds of thousands have chosen the deadly risks of this journey.
A good part of this talk will be about Canada’s reactionary history with regard to immigration. For now, I’ll note that the newly elected Liberal government is promising to settle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015. Such deeply hypocritical gestures should fool no one. Under Liberal and Tory regimes alike, the Canadian imperialists have taken part in most of Washington’s bloody wars across the Near East and Central Asia that have driven millions from their homes. And Canada’s immigration policies—who is let in and how they are treated once here—have always been marked by brutal racism and anti-Communism.
Canada’s rulers are the common enemy of all working people; in their own class interests, workers must champion the rights of immigrants and refugees, demanding full citizenship for everyone in this country! The working class must mobilize to defend their foreign-born class brothers and sisters against the racist violence that is intrinsic to capitalist class rule.
Because of the bloody civil war, more recently compounded by imperialist bombardment, something like four million people have been driven out of Syria. Close to eight million are internal refugees. In Africa, Asia and Latin America, desperate millions yearn to escape the grinding poverty inflicted by the imperialist subjugation of the neocolonial world. According to the UN, there are presently some 60 million people worldwide displaced by war and persecution, the highest number since World War II.
These facts underscore that the solution to this man-made catastrophe lies not in this or that country admitting a few thousand more immigrants, but in overturning the imperialist system that has created it. Our aim is to win workers and youth to the understanding that international proletarian revolution is the only way to secure a future for humanity.
The Imperialist System
In the Communist Manifesto—written in 1847, a few decades before the rise of the imperialist order—Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels explained the driving forces of capitalism. Through free competition on the market, manufacturing and then large-scale industry swept away the old patchwork of handicraft systems from medieval times. Industrial production, communication and transportation were revolutionized. The bourgeoisie’s “heavy artillery,” as Marx and Engels put it, was the cheap prices of commodities which allowed it to penetrate the less developed regions of the world. The capitalist system, as the Manifesto declared, “compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.”
By the dawn of the 20th century, the “normal” capitalist exploitation of workers had been supplemented and intensified by the exploitation of entire nations, ruled directly or indirectly as colonies of one or another of the great powers. As Russian revolutionary V.I. Lenin wrote in his 1916 pamphlet Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism:
“Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun, in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.”
This was an elite club which does not to this day admit new members. The powers established at that time remain the central imperialist powers today: the U.S., Germany, France, Britain and Japan, along with a constellation of smaller countries in Europe as well as Canada and Australia. The imperialists foment civil wars and communal slaughter, and topple or install as necessary the local despots whose task it is to ensure the uninterrupted flow of profits from the neocolonial world to the banks and stock exchanges of Wall Street, the City of London, Bay Street [center of Toronto’s financial district] and elsewhere.
Liberals like Naomi Klein and reformists parading as Marxists will denounce some of the crimes of the bourgeoisie. But they also push the false notion that imperialism is a policy that can be moulded depending on the politics of whatever capitalist party is in power. The corollary is that this system can be reformed to be more humane, less rapacious. It falls to us Marxists to expose this rubbish and to show that imperialism is an economic system, as integral to the modern world as skin and bones are to a person, and that it must be overthrown.
In the last century, rivalries among the bourgeoisies of the imperialist states twice engulfed the entire world in interimperialist war. Lenin’s pamphlet was written two years into World War I. Millions of young men were sent by their exploiters to die in a bloody scramble for markets and spheres of influence. In Lenin’s words, this marked the epoch of wars and revolutions. A year later, in 1917, his Bolshevik party led the proletariat to power in the world’s first successful workers revolution. They smashed the capitalist state, swept out the bankers, bosses and landlords, and inspired uprisings of workers and oppressed peoples in country after country.
For the rest of the 20th century, the imperialists were obsessed with reversing the Bolshevik victory and preventing its spread. The political counterrevolution led by Joseph Stalin beginning in 1923-24 performed a valuable service for imperialism by destroying the revolutionary Bolshevik party and the internationalist program it embodied. The Soviet Union was undermined and betrayed by the Stalinists’ twin nationalist dogmas of building “socialism in one country” and “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism. Yet the very existence of the Soviet workers state, with its planned economy and collectivized property forms, remained a beacon and a call to struggle for workers and the oppressed around the world.
The USSR also provided the nominally independent countries of the neocolonial world a breathing space to at least manoeuvre between the Soviets on one side and the imperialists on the other. Hence the 1991-92 destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state removed an enormous military and diplomatic obstacle to untrammelled imperialist freebooting and militarism. This, perhaps more than any other factor, has contributed to the increased poverty and oppression that drives the massive tide of refugees that only grows year by year.
The 1990-91 U.S.-led war on Iraq, which began as the Stalinist bureaucracy in the USSR entered its terminal decline, opened an ongoing 25-year quagmire of imperialist-fomented slaughter, civil wars and ethnic cleansing in the Near East. This has been accompanied by more imperialist military adventures in Africa and Asia. During the 1992-93 UN “peacekeeping” invasion of Somalia, racist murder and torture of civilians was carried out by Canadian airborne troops who included known fascists. Under cover of the “war on terror,” the U.S. and its British, Canadian and other allies have laid waste to countries from Afghanistan to Iraq and Libya. In these bloody wars, the workers of the world had a side against the imperialist forces. Any military setbacks for the imperialists can provide some respite to the afflicted region and can stimulate opposition by the working class in the imperialist centres.
and the Working Class
Under capitalism, immigration is manipulated to suit the economic and political needs of the rulers; thus there can be no “progressive” immigration policy. Indeed, one of the prime roles of national borders and nation-states is to control the flow of goods, capital and people between countries. In times of boom, the capitalists import workers; in times of economic constriction, these workers are fired, scapegoated for the loss of jobs and often deported.
Concentrated at the point of production, workers have great potential social power: they can shut down production and stop the flow of profits to the bosses. Their collective organization and methods of struggle, such as strikes, require class unity and thereby undercut racial and ethnic divisions. The numerically tiny ruling class is well aware of this, and it uses all the institutions of bourgeois society—the media, schools, churches and courts—to disguise the truth about capitalism and to promulgate its reactionary ideology. Each group of workers is taught that the problems are not due to the profit system but are the fault of workers who are from a different country, have different religious ideas or have a different skin colour.
In the late 19th century, sparsely populated Canada brought in 15,000 Chinese workers to build the railway. When this was completed and their labour no longer required, the racist head tax was imposed on Chinese people to restrict immigration. During the 1907 recession, the Asiatic Exclusion League, a group formed by the Vancouver Trades and Labor Council, staged a race riot, storming through Vancouver’s Japanese and Chinese areas.
The union misleaders refused to organize non-white workers, crippling working-class unity against a common foe. There were important exceptions, like William “Big Bill” Haywood, leader of the Western Federation of Miners and later founder of the Industrial Workers of the World and prominent supporter of the Bolshevik Revolution. During a 1903 miners strike on Vancouver Island, Haywood cabled the union: “We approve of calling out any or all men necessary to win at Ladysmith. Organize Japanese and Chinese if possible.”
Labour Must Champion Immigrant Rights!
This history has lost none of its relevance. Today, thanks to the former Tory government, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) has expanded the pool of superexploited labour with no rights. The TFWP especially targets low-wage agricultural workers, for example from Mexico, and live-in caregivers, mostly women from the Philippines. These workers toil as sub-minimum wage indentured servants. Any assertion of their rights can mean loss of employment, which usually means deportation since the TFWP worker’s permit is tied to the sponsoring employer.
Some 70,000 temporary foreign workers in Canada face deportation because they’ve been here for four years—and they may not reapply for another four years. A class-struggle labour leadership would demand an end to the TFWP and full citizenship rights for all immigrants. Against the capitalists’ attempts to play off one nationality against another, such a leadership would fight to unionize these foreign-born workers and for equal pay for equal work.
Instead the pro-capitalist union leaders promote nationalist protectionism—the false view that workers have a common interest with their capitalist exploiters. In 2012, several labour organizations in British Columbia opposed the entry of 200 Chinese temporary workers, with the United Steelworkers demanding “B.C. jobs for B.C. workers.” Such poison benefits only the bosses, since it pits worker against worker in a race to the bottom.
The Canadian bourgeoisie prattles about how Canada is a country of immigrants. That’s true, but this is not due to any ruling-class munificence. It was only in 1967 that the government finally lifted its official colour bar. Harper’s Tories are gone, but the history of the Liberal Party, which ran Canada for most of the last century, is replete with crimes against immigrants and ethnic minorities. It was the Liberals who refused admission to Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler. It was they who interned 22,000 Japanese Canadians during World War II and after the war deported many of them to devastated Japan. And by the way, the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), predecessors of the NDP [New Democratic Party], backed this racist atrocity.
The Tories’ nine-year rule was marked by crude xenophobia and racism. As they erected one new barrier after the other, it became increasingly difficult for immigrants to enter Canada. Thousands of refugees have been detained. Dual citizens, including native-born children of immigrants, may now lose their citizenship if found guilty of certain crimes. The bogus “war on terror” has seen a torrent of repressive, racist laws. These laws target Muslims in the first instance, but they are also an assault on democratic rights and the rights of labour and the left. It is in the interests of the working class to oppose the capitalists’ racist, anti-working-class moves against the foreign-born.
Capitalist immigration policy is not simply an economic but also a political question, wielded to serve foreign and domestic policy ends. This is especially evident with respect to refugees. According to a New York Times Magazine article (20 September), the history of the modern right to asylum started with the 1917 Russian Revolution, after which “an unprecedented wave of 1.5 million Russians streamed into Europe.” As part of the drive to defeat the revolution, the imperialist powers opened their arms to these “Russian refugees,” many of them open counterrevolutionaries, for whom the League of Nations authorized “certificates of identity.”
The Times did not deem “fit to print” the fact that after the 1917 Revolution, workers from other countries were welcomed to become citizens of the new Russian workers state, then known as the RSFSR [Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic]. Its 1918 constitution declared, “in support of the solidarity of the workers of all countries, the RSFSR grants all the political rights of Russian citizens to foreigners living on the territory of the Russian Republic and to members of the working class or peasants not using the work of others.” The infant workers state was guided in this by the internationalism of the heroic Communards of Paris in 1871, who also granted citizenship to foreign-born workers.
Anti-Communism has been a defining feature of Canadian immigration and refugee policies for almost a century, and it is still a factor. This fall the bourgeois media was awash with calls on the government to carry out the kind of large-scale mobilization on behalf of displaced Syrians that was undertaken in 1979 to bring in 50,000 Vietnamese “boat people.” A sign at a recent refugee rights rally invoked this history: “Canada accepted 50,000 Boat People and ??? Syrian refugees.” Aging former Tory cabinet ministers were wheeled out to reminisce about how they helped organize the exodus from the Vietnamese Revolution, which had just defeated the U.S. imperialists. One feels only revulsion at such “humanitarian” anti-Communism.
During U.S. imperialism’s long, losing war in Vietnam, the Canadian junior imperialists were “merchants of death,” profiting from $1 million a day in arms sold to the U.S. war machine. The Vietnamese first beat the French imperialists in 1954, leading to the creation of a deformed workers state in the north. Two decades later, in 1975, they defeated the U.S., the most powerful imperialist country on the planet. Our tendency raised the slogan: “All Indochina Must Go Communist!” We hailed the extension of the Vietnamese workers state to include the whole country, a victory for all the world’s workers.
What occurred in South Vietnam was a social revolution in which capitalist property relations were abolished. The big Vietnamese war criminals and mass murderers were spirited out with the aid of their U.S. masters right after the fall of Saigon in 1975. We were utterly opposed to giving any kind of sanctuary to these butchers, declaring, “No Asylum for Vietnamese War Criminals!” The wave of Vietnamese “boat people,” which came somewhat later, originated in a social layer which included former petty traders and entrepreneurs whose shops were nationalized. In the eyes of the U.S. and its allies, these would-be migrants were of marginal use and thus dispensable. At the same time, a racist outcry was whipped up against the “boat people.”
From the standpoint of defense of the Vietnamese Revolution, the exodus of thousands of skilled and educated people could be seen as damaging to the economic foundations of the deformed workers state. However, in the face of the nativist backlash, we concluded that “it could only be chauvinist to campaign against admission of the mass of the ‘boat people’” (“Imperialist Hypocrisy and the Boat People,” Spartacist Canada No. 38, August/September 1979). For the capitalist rulers, anti-Communism ultimately trumped racism, and a massive drive was undertaken to relocate these people in Canada, the U.S., Britain and Australia.
Quite another calculus was used for victims of right-wing terror. During this same period, the Canadian government targeted leftists for deportation, issuing dozens of “security certificates” to get rid of “subversives.” In Chile in September 1973, the military, with the direct assistance of the CIA, overthrew the democratically elected government headed by Socialist Party leader Salvador Allende. Thousands of leftists and workers were murdered. In contrast to the welcome given the Vietnamese “boat people,” in the 18 months following the coup—which caused over 200,000 to flee for their lives—Canada saw fit to accept just 1,188 refugees from Chile. The government claimed the total later climbed to 7,000, but the Canadian rulers’ attitude was best expressed by their ambassador to Chile in 1973, who smeared Latin American leftists as “riffraff” and expressed his relief that the Allende government was overthrown.
World War II in Europe ended with the destruction of the Nazi forces by the Soviet Red Army and the concomitant liberation of East Europe from Hitlerite fascism. After the war, Canada eagerly gave haven to thousands of Nazi war criminals because they were hardened opponents of Communism and Soviet Russia. The subsequent Cold War against the USSR was spearheaded domestically by a ruthless witchhunt in the labour movement. The Communist Party (CP) had been in the forefront of the struggle to build the unions. The bosses recruited tens of thousands of hardened anti-Communists to undermine the CP’s influence. In purging the “reds,” the ruling class was fully aided and abetted by the CCF; many social democrats and labour fakers built careers on driving Communists and their supporters out of the unions.
Immigration helped to provide the capitalist class with the manpower to undertake this assault. In 1956, an incipient proletarian political revolution shook Stalinist bureaucratic rule in the Hungarian deformed workers state. The workers uprising had repulsed attempts by fascistic and monarchist elements which saw an opening for counterrevolution. However, the insurgent workers were finally overcome by the Soviet military.
Tens of thousands of overwhelmingly right-wing Hungarians fled the country. As with the Nazis, Canada welcomed this counterrevolutionary wave, taking in 37,000 in less than a year. A few years later, a significant number of these people were enlisted in the drive to destroy the CP-led Mine Mill and Smelter Workers Union, which represented hardrock miners in northern Ontario. This campaign was a powerful illustration of the organic link between the bourgeoisie’s union-busting and its anti-Communist immigration policy. As we wrote earlier:
“With the help of the federal Department of Mines and Resources, which was then responsible for immigration, companies like International Nickel (Inco) actively sought out ‘former’ fascists to work in their mines in and around Sudbury. Meanwhile, the USWA [Steelworkers union] organized anti-Communist raids against Mine-Mill throughout the 1950s.”
—“For a Class-Struggle Fight Against Anti-Immigrant Racism!” Spartacist Canada No. 99, September/October 1994
In a showdown on August 26, 1961, a mob of 1,800 laid siege to Mine Mill’s Sudbury union hall, and the cops stood by as the rioters smashed every window. Years later, the Sudbury Star obtained an RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] report on the attack which revealed that “the mob on Saturday night was composed of former Hungarian freedom fighters and ex-Nazi storm troopers, who have been imported in considerable numbers by Inco in the past few years.”
By the 1980s, East Europeans could pretty much step off the plane in Gander airport in Newfoundland and gain asylum. But for leftists fleeing “free world” death squads in El Salvador, Guatemala and Chile the Canadian door was slammed shut.
A Liberal Utopian Response
As Marxist revolutionaries, we understand that there can be no progressive immigration policy under capitalism. It’s not our business to propose solutions to the imperialists, but rather to educate the working class in the need to overthrow their system. Not so our opponents on the left, who promote illusions that the same rapacious imperialists who have destroyed the Near East can be persuaded to come to the aid of their victims.
Today, many leftists—for example, the International Socialists and No-One Is Illegal—call for “open borders,” a demand increasingly raised as a solution to the present crisis in Europe. In reality, this call reflects illusions in the European Union, a reactionary imperialist consortium which we Marxists oppose on principle. In his Imperialism pamphlet, Lenin devoted a chapter to ridicule the “silly little fable about ‘peaceful’ ultra-imperialism,” which was pushed by Karl Kautsky, theoretician of the German social democracy and vociferous opponent of the Bolshevik Revolution.
The notion of a peaceful imperialist order without immigration restrictions is utterly utopian and tantamount to calling for the abolition of national states under capitalism. The modern nation-state with defined borders arose as a vehicle for the development of capitalism and it remains the basis of the capitalists’ economy and their state. No bourgeoisie will give up control over its territory or borders without a fight. This will be so until the capitalist order is destroyed through a series of workers revolutions.
Applied to small or neocolonial countries, the consequences of “open borders” can be reactionary, for example in advancing imperialist economic penetration. On a sufficiently large scale, mass immigration is incompatible with the right of national self-determination. Just look at Israel. The imperialist states closed their borders first to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany and then to survivors of the death camps. Hundreds of thousands of European Jews were forced to go to Palestine. This mass influx resulted in the Palestinian Arab population being displaced and expelled from their homeland.
Some advocates of “open borders” argue that unlimited immigration can be a solution to world poverty. In “The Leninist Policy Toward Immigration/Emigration,” written more than 40 years ago, we explained:
“This is merely a variant of utopian egalitarianism—the belief that a just society can be established by sharing out the currently available wealth….
“In reality, the economic resources do not now exist to satisfy the material aspirations of mankind, and a policy of worldwide leveling would only intensify conflicts between the working masses of various countries.”
—WV No. 36, 18 January 1974
The realization of the Marxist program—a communist society—requires the eradication of economic scarcity. Replacement of capitalist property relations by collective ownership of the means of production and a worldwide planned economy will result in a vast increase in the productivity of labour and living standards, and this alone can lay the basis for the emergence of a classless society. The elimination of national borders will be possible in a communist society where material scarcity, national divisions and racism will be relics of the past.
Today, the working class in this country is thoroughly multiracial, from Punjabi port truckers in B.C. to black transit workers in Toronto. Workers must take up the cause of immigrants and ethnic minorities, who are key to the workings of the Canadian economy. Often more willing to fight for the rights of all workers, these workers can be a catalyst for broader class and other social struggles. This perspective requires a fight against the pro-capitalist union misleaders and the NDP, during which a new class-struggle leadership of the unions will be forged. The battles of a revitalized labour movement will in turn help to create conditions for the emergence of the multiracial vanguard party that is required to lead the workers to overthrow the capitalist order.