Immigration and the workers’ movement

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As the global economic crisis and social decomposition worsen, living conditions throughout the world, particularly in the underdeveloped countries, become increasingly intolerable. The accumulated effects of economic deprivation, natural catastrophes, warfare and ethnic cleansing, famine, and outright barbarism have become stark everyday reality for millions of people, dramatically increasing pressures for mass migration. Millions flee towards the capitalist metropoles, or even other underdeveloped countries that are in slightly better straits, in order to survive and to find more bearable conditions.

The United Nations estimates that there are as many as 200 million immigrants - approximately three percent of the world's population - living outside their home country, double the number in 1980. In the United States, there are 33 million foreign-born residents, approximately 11.7 percent of the population; in Germany 10.1 million, 12.3 percent; in France 6.4 million, 10.7 percent; in the United Kingdom 5.8 million, 9.7 percent; in Spain 4.8 million, 8.5 percent; in Italy 2.5 million, 4.3 percent; in Switzerland 1.7 million, 22.9 percent; and in the Netherlands 1.6 million.[1] Bourgeois government and media sources estimate that there are more than 12 million illegal immigrants in the US, and more than 8 million in the European Union. In this context, immigration has emerged as a hot button political issue throughout the capitalist metropoles and even within the Third World itself, as the anti-immigrant riots in South Africa last year demonstrate. 

While it varies from country to country in its details, the bourgeoisie's attitude towards mass migration generally follows a three-faceted pattern: 1) encouraging immigration for economic and political reasons; 2) simultaneously restricting it and trying to control it, and 3) orchestrating ideological campaigns to stir up racism and xenophobia against immigrants in order to divide the working class against itself.

Encouraging immigration. The ruling class relies upon immigrant workers, legal and illegal, to fill low paid jobs that are not attractive to native workers, to serve as a reserve army of unemployed and underemployed workers to depress wages for the entire working class and to fill workforce shortages created by aging populations and declining native birth rates. In the US, the ruling class is abundantly aware that entire industries, such as retail, construction, meat and poultry processing, janitorial services, hotels, restaurants, and home health and child care, rely heavily on immigrant labor, both legal and illegal. This is why the demands by the far right for the deportation of 12 million illegal immigrants and the curtailment of legal immigration in no way represents a rational policy alternative for the dominant fraction of the American ruling class, and has been rejected as irrational, impractical, and harmful to the American economy.  

Restricting and controlling. At the same time, the dominant fraction recognizes a need to resolve the status of undocumented immigrants to alleviate a multitude of social, economic and political problems, including the availability and delivery of medical, social, educational and other public services, as well as a variety of legal questions pertaining to the American-born children of immigrants and their property. This was the backdrop to the proposed immigration reform in spring 2007 in the US, which was supported by the Bush administration and the Republican leadership, the Democrats (including the left personified by the late senator Edward Kennedy), and major corporations. Far from being a pro-immigrant law, the legislation called for the militarization and tightening of the border, the legalization of illegal immigrants already in the country, and measures to control and restrict the future flow of immigrants. While it provided a means for illegal immigrants currently in the country to legalize their status, it was in a no way an "amnesty," as it included time delays and huge fines.  

Ideological campaigns. Anti-immigrant propaganda campaigns vary from country to country, but the central message is remarkably similar, targeting primarily "Latinos" in the US and Muslims in Europe, with the allegation that recent immigrants, particularly undocumented immigrants, are responsible for worsening economic and social conditions faced by the native working class, by taking jobs, depressing wages, overcrowding schools with their children, draining social welfare programs, increasing crime, and just about any other social woe you can think of. This is a classic example of capitalism's strategy of "divide and rule", to divide workers against themselves, to blame each other for their problems, to fight over the crumbs, rather than to understand that it is the capitalist system itself that is responsible for their suffering. This serves to undermine the working class's ability to regain its consciousness of its class identity and unity, which is feared most of all by the bourgeoisie. Most typically the division of labor within the bourgeoisie assigns the rightwing to stir up and exploit anti-immigrant sentiment in all the capitalist metropoles with varying degrees of success, resonating within certain sectors of the proletariat, but nowhere else has it reached the barbaric level exemplified by the xenophobic riots against immigrants in South Africa in May 2008.   

Worsening conditions in the underdeveloped countries in the years ahead, including not only the effects of decomposition and war, but also climate change, will mean that the immigration question is likely to increase in significance in the future. It is crucial that the workers' movement is clear about the meaning of the immigration phenomenon, the strategy of the bourgeoisie with regard to immigration in terms of its policies and its ideological campaigns, and the proletarian perspective on this question. In this article, we will examine the role of population migration in capitalist history, the history of the immigration question within the workers' movement, the immigration policy of the bourgeoisie, and an orientation for revolutionary intervention in regard to immigration.

Immigration and capitalist development

Migration has been a central characteristic of human populations from the very beginnings of human history, driven largely by the need to survive in the face of difficult conditions. For example, anatomically modern humans, homo sapiens, developed  in Africa about 160,000 to 200,000 years ago, and  are believed to have begun a series of migrations out of Africa towards Asia and Europe  150,000 to 50,000 years ago, driven by unstable climatic and environmental conditions linked to various ice ages.   The subsequent property relations of slave society and feudalism tied humans to the land, but even under these modes of production, populations migrated, conquering new areas, overcoming indigenous populations. As with other questions confronting the working class, it useful to analyze the question of immigration in the context of the ascendancy and decadence of capitalism.

 In the ascendant period, capitalism placed tremendous importance on the mobility of the working class as a factor in the development of its mode of production. Under feudalism the toiling population was bound to the land, hardly moving throughout their lives. By expropriating the agricultural producers, capitalism obliged large populations to move from the countryside to the towns, to sell their labor power, providing a much needed pool of labor. As World Revolution n° 300 noted in "The working class is a class of immigrants", "In the early history of capitalism, its period of ‘primitive accumulation', the first wage laborers had their ties with feudal masters severed and ‘great masses of men are suddenly and forcibly torn from their means of subsistence, and hurled onto the labor market as free, unprotected and rightless proletarians. The expropriation of the agricultural producer, of the peasant, from the soil is the basis of the whole process' (Marx, Capital Vol.1, Ch. 26)." As Lenin put it, "Capitalism necessarily creates mobility of the population, something not required by previous systems of social economy and impossible under them on anything like a large scale".[2] As ascendancy progressed, mass migration was critically important for the development of capitalism in its period of industrialization. The movement and relocation of masses of workers to where capital needed them was essential. From 1848 to 1914, 50 million people left Europe, the overwhelming majority settling in the United States. Twenty million migrated from Europe to the US between 1900 and 1914 alone. In 1900 the US population was approximately 75 million and in 1914 it was approximately 94 million; which means that in 1914 more than one in five was a recently arrived immigrant - not counting immigrants arriving before 1900. If the children of immigrants who were born in the US are included in the count, then the impact of immigrants on social life is even more significant. During this period the US bourgeoisie essentially followed a policy completely open to immigration (with the exception of restrictions on Asian immigrants). For the immigrant workers who uprooted themselves, the motivation was the opportunity to improve their standard of living, to escape the effects of poverty and famine, oppression, and limited opportunity.

While it pursued a policy of encouraging immigration, the bourgeoisie did not hesitate at the same time to use ideological campaigns of xenophobia and racism as a means to divide the working class against itself. So called "native workers" - some of whom were themselves only second or third generation descendants of immigrants were pitted against newcomers, who were denounced because of their linguistic, cultural, and religious differences. Even between newly arrived immigrant groups ethnic antagonisms were employed as fodder for the "divide and rule" strategy. It is important to remember that the fear and mistrust of outsiders has deep-seated psychological roots in society, and that capitalism has not hesitated to exploit this phenomenon for its own nefarious purposes. The bourgeoisie, especially in the U.S, has used this tactic of "divide and rule" to undermine the historic tendency towards class unity and to better subjugate the proletariat. Engels noted in a letter to Schlüter in 1892 that the American "bourgeoisie knows much better even than the Austrian Government how to play off one nationality against the other: Jews, Italians, Bohemians, etc., against Germans and Irish, and each one against the other..."[3] It is a classic ideological weapon of the enemy class.

Whereas immigration in the period of capitalist ascendance was largely fueled by the need to satisfy the labor force requirements of a rapidly expanding, historically progressive mode of production, in decadence, with the slowing down of exponential growth rates, the motivation for immigration came from more negative factors. The pressure to escape persecution, famine and poverty, which motivated millions of workers in the ascendant period to migrate in search of work and an improved standard of living, inevitably increased in the decadent period at a higher level of urgency. The changing characteristics of modern warfare in decadence in particular gave new impetus to mass migration and the flood of refugees. In ascendance wars were limited primarily to the conflict between professional armies on the battlefields. With the onset of decadence the nature of war changed dramatically, involving the mobilization of the entire population and economic apparatus of the national capital. This consequently made terrorization and demoralization of the civilian population a primary tactical objective, and contributed to massive refugee migrations of the 20th and now the 21st centuries. During the current war in Iraq, for example, an estimated two million people have become refugees, seeking safety primarily in Jordan and Syria. Immigrants fleeing the increasingly barbaric conditions in their home countries are further victimized along the way by corrupt police and military, mafias and criminals, who extort them, brutalize them, and rob them in their desperate journey to a hoped-for better life. Many of them die or disappear along the way and some of them fall into the hands of human traffickers. Remarkably the forces of capitalist law and order appear incapable or unwilling to do anything to alleviate these social evils that accompany mass migration in the current period.

In the US, decadence was accompanied by an abrupt change from a wide open immigration policy (except for the long-standing restrictions on Asian immigrants) to highly restrictive governmental immigration policies. With the change in economic period, there was indeed less need for a continuing massive influx of labor. But this was not the only reason to further restrict immigration; racist and "anti-communist" factors were equally present.  The National Origins Act enacted in 1924 limited the number of immigrants from Europe to 150,000 persons per year, and allocated the quota for each country on the basis of the ethnic makeup of the US population in 1890 - before the massive waves of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe arrived in the US. Targeting of eastern European immigrant workers in this manner was in part attributable to racism against "undesirable" elements like Italians, Greeks, Eastern Europeans, and Jews. During the period of the "Red Hysteria" in the US following the Russian Revolution, working class immigrants from Eastern Europe were regarded as likely to include a disproportionate number of "Bolsheviks" and those from Southern Europe, anarchists. In addition to restricting the flow of immigrants, the 1924 law created for the first time in the US the concept of the non-immigrant foreign worker - who could come to America to work but was barred from staying.

In 1950, the McCarran-Walter Act, heavily influenced by McCarthyism and the anti-communist hysteria of the Cold War, imposed new limits on immigration under cover of the struggle against Russian imperialism.  In the late 1960's, with the onset of the open crisis of world capitalism, US immigration policy was liberalized, increasing the flow of immigrants into the US, not only from Europe, but Asia and Latin America,  reflecting in part American capitalism's desire to match the European powers' success in tapping their former colonial countries for talented, skilled intellectual workers, such as scientists, medical doctors, nurses and other professions - the so-called "brain drain" from the underdeveloped countries - and to provide low-paid agricultural workers. The unintended consequence of the liberalization measures was a dramatic increase in illegal as well as legal immigration, particularly from Latin America.

In 1986, America's anti-immigrant policy was updated with enactment of the Simpson-Rodino Immigration and Naturalization Control Reform Act, which dealt with the influx of illegal immigrants from Latin America by imposing, for the first time in American history, sanctions (fines and even prison) against employers who knowingly employed undocumented workers. The influx of illegal immigrants had been heightened by the economic collapse of Third World countries during the 1970s, which triggered a wave of impoverished masses fleeing destitution in Mexico, Haiti, and war-ravaged El Salvador. The enormity of this uncontroled upsurge could be seen in the arrests of a record 1.6 million illegal immigrants in 1986 by US immigration police.

On the level of ideological campaigns, the use of the divide and rule strategy in regard to immigration, already utilized as a tactical weapon against the proletariat during the ascendance of capitalism, has been elevated to new heights in the period of capitalist decadence. Immigrants are blamed for flooding the metropoles, for cutting and depressing wages, for being the cause of epidemics of crime and cultural "pollution", overcrowding in schools, overburdening social programs - every imaginable social problem. This tactic has not been limited solely to the US, but has also been used in Britain, France, Germany and throughout Europe, where immigrants from Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East are scapegoated for the social ills of crisis-ridden, decomposing capitalism in remarkably similar ideological campaigns, demonstrating in this way that mass immigration is a manifestation of the global economic crisis and worsening social decomposition in less developed countries. All of this is done in order to throw up obstacles to block the development and spread of class consciousness within the working class, to try to hoodwink workers to prevent them from understanding that it is capitalism which creates war, economic crisis, and the full range of social problems characteristic of social decomposition.   

The social impact of worsening decomposition and attendant crises including the growth of the ecological crisis will undoubtedly drive millions of refugees towards the developed countries in the years ahead. While these sudden, massive population shifts are handled differently by the bourgeoisie to routine immigration, they are still dealt with in a manner that reflects the basic inhumanity of capitalist society. Refugees are often herded into refugee camps, segregated from the surrounding society, and only slowly released and integrated, sometimes over many years, treated more as prisoners and undesirables than as fellow members of the human community. Such an attitude stands in stark contrast to the internationalist solidarity that would clearly be the proletarian perspective.

Historical position of the workers' movement on immigration

Confronting the existence of ethnic, racial, and linguistic differences between workers, the workers' movement has historically been guided by the principle that "workers have no country," a principle that has influenced both the internal life of the revolutionary workers' movement and the intervention of that movement in the class struggle.  Any compromise on this principle represents a capitulation to bourgeois ideology.

So for example, in 1847 the German members of the Communist League in exile in London, though primarily concerned with propaganda work amongst German workers, adhered to an internationalist outlook and "maintained close relations with political fugitives from all manner of countries."[4] In Brussels, the League "held an international banquet to demonstrate the fraternal feelings harbored by the workers of each country for the workers of other countries...One hundred and twenty workers attended this banquet including Belgians, Germans, Swiss, Frenchman, Poles, Italians and one Russian."[5]  Twenty years later, the same preoccupation prompted the First International to intervene in strikes with two central aims: to prevent the bourgeoisie from importing foreign strike-breakers and to provide direct support to the strikers, as they did in strikes by sieve-makers, tailors and basket makers in London and bronze workers in Paris.[6]   When the economic crisis of 1866 prompted a wave of strikes throughout Europe, the General Council of the International "supported the strikers with advice and assistance, and it mobilized the international solidarity of the proletariat in their favor. In this way the International deprived the capitalist class of a very effective weapon, and employers were no longer able to check the militancy of their workers by importing cheap foreign labor. Where its influence was felt it sought to convince the workers that their own interests demanded that should support the wage struggles of their foreign comrades."[7] Similarly in 1871 when a movement for a nine hour workday arose in Britain, organized by the Nine Hour League, not the trade unions who remained aloof from the struggle, the First International supported the struggle by sending representatives to Belgium and Denmark "to prevent the agents of the employers recruiting strike-breakers there, a task which they performed with a considerable degree of success."[8]

The most significant exception to this internationalist position occurred in 1870-71 in the US, where the American section of the International opposed the immigration of Chinese workers to the US because they were used by capitalists to depress wages for white workers. A delegate from California complained that "the Chinese have driven out of employment thousands of white men, women, girls and boys." This position reflected a distorted interpretation of Marx's critique of Asiatic despotism as an anachronistic mode of production, whose dominance in Asia had to be overturned in order to integrate the Asian continent into modern productive relations, which would lead to the development of a modern proletariat in Asia. That Chinese laborers weren't yet proletarianized and were therefore susceptible to manipulation and super-exploitation by the bourgeoisie unfortunately became, not an impetus to extend solidarity and an effort to integrate them into the larger American working class, but a rationalization for racial exclusion.

In any case, the struggle for unity of the international working class continued in the Second International. A little over a hundred years ago at the Stuttgart Congress of the Second International in 1907, an attempt by the opportunists to support the restriction of Chinese and Japanese immigration by bourgeois governments was overwhelmingly defeated. Opposition was so great that the opportunists were actually forced to withdraw the resolution. Instead the Congress adopted an anti-exclusionist position for the workers' movement in all countries. In reporting on this Congress, Lenin wrote, "There was an attempt to defend narrow, craft interests, to ban the immigration of workers from backward countries (coolies-from China, etc.). This is the same spirit of aristocratism that one finds among workers in some of the ‘civilized' countries, who derive certain advantages from their privileged position, and are therefore, inclined to forget the need for international solidarity. But no one at the Congress defended this craft and petty-bourgeois narrow-mindedness. The resolution fully meets the needs of revolutionary Social Democracy."[9]

In the US, the opportunists attempted at the 1908, 1910 and 1912 Socialist Party congresses to push through resolutions to evade the decision of the Stuttgart Congress and voiced support for the American Federation of Labor's opposition to immigrants. But they were beaten back every time by comrades advocating international solidarity for all workers. One delegate admonished the opportunists that for the working class "there are no foreigners." Others insisted that the workers' movement must not join with capitalists against groups of workers. In a 1915 letter to the Socialist Propaganda League (the predecessor of the left wing of the Socialist Party that went on to found the Communist and Communist Labor parties in the US) Lenin wrote, "In our struggle for true internationalism and against ‘jingo-socialism' we always quote in our press the example of the opportunist leaders of the S.P. in America who are in favor of restrictions of Chinese and Japanese workers (especially after the Congress of Stuttgart, 1907 and against the decisions of Stuttgart). We think that one cannot be internationalist and at the same time in favor of such restrictions."[10]

Historically, immigrants have always played an important role in the workers' movement in the US. The first Marxist revolutionaries came to the US after the failure of the 1848 revolution in Germany and later constituted vital links to the European center of the First International. Engels introduced certain problematic conceptions regarding immigrants into the socialist movement in the US which, while accurate in certain aspects, were erroneous in others, some of which ultimately led to a negative impact on the organizational activities of the American revolutionary movement. Engels was concerned about the initial slowness of the working class movement to develop in the US. He understood that certain specificities in the American situation were involved, including the lack of a feudal tradition with a strong class system, and the existence of the frontier which served as a safety valve for the bourgeoisie, allowing discontented workers to escape from a proletarian existence to become a farmer or homesteader in the west. Another was the gulf between native and immigrant workers, in terms of economic opportunities and the inability of radicalized immigrant workers to communicate with native workers. For example, when he criticized the German socialist émigrés in America for not learning English, he wrote that "they will have to doff every remnant of their foreign garb. They will have to become out-and-out Americans. They cannot expect the Americans to come to them; they the minority, and the immigrants, must go to the Americans, who are the vast majority and the natives. And to do that, they must above all learn English."[11] It was true that there was a tendency for German immigrant revolutionaries to confine themselves to theoretical work in the 1880's and to disdain mass work with native, English-speaking workers, that led to Engels' comments. It was also true that the immigrant-led revolutionary movement did indeed have to open outward to English-speaking American workers, but the emphasis on Americanization of the movement  implicit in these remarks proved to have  disastrous consequences for the workers' movement, as it eventually pushed the most politically and theoretically developed and experienced workers into secondary roles, and put leadership in the hands of poorly formed militants, whose primary qualification was being a native, English-speaker. After the Russian Revolution, this same policy was pursued by the Communist International with even more disastrous consequences for the early Communist Party. Moscow's insistence that native American-born militants be placed in leadership positions catapulted opportunists and careerists like William Z. Foster to leadership positions, cast Eastern European revolutionaries with left communist leanings totally outside the leadership, and accelerated the triumph of Stalinism in the US party.

Similarly, another remark by Engels is also problematic: that the "great obstacle in America, it seems to me, lies in the exceptional position of the native workers... [The native working class] has developed and has also to a great extent organized itself on trade union lines. But it still takes up an aristocratic attitude and wherever possible leaves the ordinary badly paid occupations to the immigrants, of whom only a small section enter the aristocratic trades".[12] Though it accurately described how native and immigrant workers were effectively divided against each other, it implied wrongly that it was the native workers and not the bourgeoisie that were responsible for the gulf between different segments of the working class. Though this comment described the segmentation in the white immigrant working class, the new leftists in the 1960's interpreted it as a basis for the "white skin privilege theory."[13]

In any case, the history of the class struggle in the US itself disproved Engels' view that Americanization of immigrant workers was a precondition for building a strong socialist movement in the US. Class solidarity and unity across ethnic and linguistic roles was a central characteristic of the workers movement at the turn of the 20th century. The socialist parties in the US had a foreign language press that published dozens of daily and weekly newspapers in different languages.  In 1912, the Socialist Party published 5 English and 8 foreign language daily newspapers, 262 English and 36 foreign weekly newspapers, and 10 English and 2 foreign news monthlies in the US, and this does not include the Socialist Labor Party publications. The Socialist Party had 31 foreign language federations within it: Armenian, Bohemian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hispanic, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Jewish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Scandinavian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, South Slavic, Spanish, Swedish, Ukrainian and Yugoslav. These federations comprised a majority of the organization. The majority of the members of the Communist and Communist Labor Parties founded in 1919 were immigrants. Similarly the growth in Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) membership in the period before World War I came disproportionately from immigrants, and even the western IWW, which had a large "native" membership, had thousands of Slavs, Chicanos, and Scandinavians in their ranks.

The most famous IWW struggle, the Lawrence textile workers' strike of 1912, demonstrated the capacity for solidarity between immigrant and non-immigrant workers. Lawrence was a mill town in Massachusetts where workers laboured under deplorable conditions. Half the workers were teenage girls between 14 and 18 years of age. Skilled craft workers tended to be English speaking workers of English, Irish, and German ancestry. The unskilled workers included French-Canadian, Italian, Slavic, Hungarian, Portuguese, Syrian and Polish immigrants. A wage cut imposed at one of the mills prompted a strike by Polish women weavers, which quickly spread to 20,000 workers. A strike committee, organized under the leadership of the IWW, included two representatives from each ethnic group and demanded a 15 percent wage increase and no reprisals for strikers. Strike meetings were translated into twenty-five languages. When the authorities responded with violent repression, the strike committee launched a campaign by sending several hundred children of the striking workers to stay with working class sympathizers in New York City. When a second trainload of 100 children was being sent to worker sympathizers in New Jersey, the authorities attacked the children and their mothers, beating them and arresting them in front of national press coverage, which resulted in a national outpouring of solidarity. A similar tactic, sending the children of striking immigrant silk workers in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1913 to stay with "strike mothers" in other cities was also used by the IWW and again demonstrated class solidarity across ethnic barriers.

As World War I unfolded, the role of émigrés and immigrants in the leftwing of the socialist movement was particularly important. For example, on 14 January 1917, the day after he arrived in New York, Trotsky participated in a meeting at the Brooklyn home of Ludwig Lore, a German immigrant, to plan a "program of action" for the left forces in the American socialist movement.  Also participating were Bukharin, who was already a US resident working as editor for Novy Mir, organ of the Russian Socialist Federation; several other Russian émigrés; S.J. Rutgers, a Dutch revolutionary who was a collaborator of Pannekoek's, and Sen Katayama, a Japanese émigré. According to eyewitness accounts, the discussion was dominated by the Russians with Bukharin arguing that the left should immediately split from the Socialist Party and Trotsky that the left should remain within the Party for the moment but should advance its critique by publishing an independent bi-monthly organ, which was the position adopted by the meeting. Had he not returned to Russia after the February Revolution, Trotsky would likely have served as leader of the leftwing of the American movement.[14] The co-existence of many languages was not an obstacle to the movement; on the contrary it was a reflection of its strength. At one mass rally in 1917, Trotsky addressed the crowd in Russian and others in German, Finnish, English, Latvian, Yiddish and Lithuanian.[15]

Bourgeois theorisation of anti-immigrant ideology

Bourgeois ideologists insist that today the characteristics of mass migration towards Europe and the US are totally different than in previous periods of history.  Behind this is the idea that today immigrants are weakening, even destroying the societies that receive them, refusing to integrate into their new societies, and rejecting their political institutions and culture. In Europe, Walter Laqueur's The Last Days of Europe: Epitaph for an Old Continent makes the case that Muslim immigration is responsible for European decline. The central thesis argued by the bourgeois political scientist Samuel P. Huntington of Harvard University in his 2004 book, Who Are We: the Challenges to America's Identity is that Latin American, especially Mexican, immigrants who have arrived in the US in the last three decades are much less likely to speak English than earlier generations of immigrants coming from Europe because they all speak a common language, are concentrated in the same areas in segregated Spanish-speaking enclaves, are less interested in linguistically and culturally assimilating themselves and are encouraged not to learn English by activists who foment identity politics. Huntington further claims that the "bifurcation" of American society along white/black racial lines that has existed for generations is now threatened to be replaced by a cultural bifurcation between Spanish-speaking immigrants and native English speakers that puts American national identity and culture in the balance. 

Both Laqueur and Huntington boast distinguished careers as cold war ideologists for the bourgeoisie. Laqueur is a conservative Jewish scholar, a Holocaust survivor, intensely pro-Israel, anti-Arab, and a consulting scholar with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Cold War "think tank" linked closely to the Pentagon since 1962. Bush's former secretary of defense, Rumsfeld, consulted with the CSIS on a regular basis. Huntington, a political science professor from Harvard, served as an adviser to Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War and in 1968 recommended a policy of heavy bombardment of the Vietnamese countryside to undermine peasants' support for the Viet Cong and drive them into the cities. He later worked with the Trilateral Commission in the 1970s, authoring the Governability of Democracies report in 1976 and served as policy coordinator for the National Security Council in the late 1970's.   In 1993 he wrote an article in Foreign Affairs, which was later expanded in 1996 into a book titled Clash of Civilizations in which he developed the thesis that after the collapse of the USSR, culture not ideology would become the dominant basis for conflicts in the world, and he predicted that an imminent clash of civilisations between Islam and the West would be the central international conflict in the future. Though Huntington's 2004 anti-immigrant tract was widely dismissed by academic scholars specializing in population studies and immigration and assimilation issues, his views got wide play among the media, pundits and policy "experts" in Washington.    

Huntington's protestations that foreign speaking immigrants would refuse to learn English, resist assimilation, and contribute to cultural pollution are standard fare in the annals of US history. In the late 1700s, Benjamin Franklin feared that Pennsylvania would be overwhelmed by the "swarm" of immigrants from Germany. "Why should Pennsylvania," Franklin asked, "founded by the English, become a colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them?" In 1896, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) President Francis Walker, an influential economist, warned that American citizenship could be degraded by "the tumultuous access of vast throngs of ignorant and brutalized peasantry from the countries of eastern and southern Europe."  President Theodore Roosevelt was so vexed by the influx of non-English speaking immigrants that he proposed that "every immigrant who comes here should be required within five years to learn English or leave the country." Harvard historian Arthur Schlesinger Sr. made similar complaints about the socially, culturally and intellectually "inferior" immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. All of these fears and complaints of yesteryear are remarkably similar to Huntington's characterizations of the present situation.

The historic record has never supported these xenophobic fears. While there was always a certain segment of each immigrant group that aggressively sought to learn English, assimilate quickly and achieve economic success, assimilation tended to occur gradually - typically over a period of three generations. Immigrant adults generally retained their native language and cultural traditions in the US. They lived in ethnic neighborhoods, spoke their language in the community, in the shops, in religious settings, etc. They read native language newspapers, periodicals and books. Their children, who immigrated as youngsters or were born in the US, tended to be bilingual. They learned English in school and in the 20th century were surrounded by English in mass culture, but also spoke the native language of their parents in the home, and tended to marry within the national ethnic group. By the third generation, the grandchildren of the original immigrants generally lost the ability to speak the native language and were more likely to be unilingual English speakers. Their cultural assimilation was marked by a growing trend towards inter-marriage outside the original immigrant ethnic group. Despite the large Latino immigration in recent years, the same assimilation trends seem to be continuing intact in the current period in the US, according to recent studies by the Pew Hispanic Center and Princeton University sociologists.[16] 

However, even if the current wave of immigration were in fact qualitatively different from previous ones, would it matter? If workers have no country, why would we be concerned whether assimilation takes place? Engels advocated Americanization in the 1880s not as an end itself, not as some timeless principle of the workers' movement, but as a means to build a mass-based socialist movement. But as we have seen, this notion that such Americanization was a necessary precondition to build working class unity was disproven by the practice of the workers' movement itself in the early 20th century, which unequivocally demonstrated that the workers' movement can embrace the diversity and international character of the proletariat and build a united movement against the ruling class. 

While the 2008 xenophobic riots in South African slums are a warning sign that the bourgeoisie's anti-immigrant ideological campaigns lead ultimately to barbarism in social life, there is considerable evidence that capitalist propaganda severely exaggerates the level of anti-immigrant sentiment in the working class in the metropoles. In the US for example despite the best efforts of bourgeois media and rightwing propaganda to stir up hatred against immigrants around linguistic and cultural issues, the dominant attitude among the general population, including workers, is that immigrants are just workers trying to earn a living to support their families, that they are taking jobs that are too dirty and too low paying for "native" workers, and that it would be foolish to deport them.[17] In the class struggle itself there are increasing signs of solidarity between immigrant and "native" workers that is reminiscent of the internationalist unity at Lawrence in 1912. Examples include various struggles in 2008, such as the massive upheaval in Greece where immigrant workers joined the struggle, or in the Lindsey oil refinery strike in Britain in winter 2009 where immigrants clearly expressed their solidarity, or in the US in the Republic Window and Door factory occupation by Hispanic immigrant workers when "native" workers flocked to the plant bringing food and other supplies to show their support. 

Revolutionary intervention on the immigration question

According to media reports, 80 percent of Britons believe the United Kingdom faces a population crisis caused by immigration; more than 50% fear that British culture is being diluted; 60 percent that Great Britain is more dangerous because of immigration; and 85% want immigration cut or stopped.[18] The fact that there is a certain level of receptivity to the irrational fears of racism and xenophobia propagated by bourgeois ideology among certain elements of the working class does not surprise us since the ideology of the dominant class in class society will exert immense influence on the working class until the development of an openly revolutionary situation. However, whatever the success of the intrusion of bourgeois ideology within the working class, for the revolutionary movement the principle that the world working class is a unity, that workers have no country, is the bedrock of proletarian international solidarity and working class consciousness. Anything that stresses, aggravates, manipulates, or contributes to the "disunity" of the working class is contrary to the internationalist nature of the proletariat as a class and is a manifestation of bourgeois ideology against which revolutionaries fight. Our responsibility is to defend the historic truth that workers have no country.

In any case, as usual the accusations of bourgeois ideology against immigrants are more myth than reality. Immigrants are more likely to be the victims of criminals than to be criminals themselves. In general immigrants are honest, hardworking workers, who labor long, arduous hours to earn money to support themselves and to send home to their families. They are often cheated by unscrupulous employers who pay them less than the minimum wage and refuse to pay them overtime rates, by unscrupulous landlords who charge them exorbitant rents in slum housing, and by all manner of thieves, muggers, and robbers - all of whom count on the immigrants' fear of the authorities to keep them from complaining about their victimization. Statistics show that crime tends to increase among the second and third generations in immigrant families; not because of their immigration status but due to the fact of their continued grinding poverty, discrimination and lack of opportunity as poor people.[19]

It is essential to be clear about the difference that exists today between the position of the Communist Left and that of all those who defend an anti-racist ideology (including those who pretend to be revolutionaries).  Despite the denunciation of the racist character of anti-immigrant ideology, the actions they promote are on the same terrain. Rather than stressing the basic unity of the proletariat they emphasize its division. In an updated version of the old "white skin privilege theory," they blame workers who are suspicious of immigrants, not capitalism for anti-immigrant racism, and they even go on to glorify immigrant workers, as heroes who are purer than native born workers. The "anti-racists" support immigrants versus non-immigrants rather than stress working class unity. The ideology of multiculturalism which they propagate seeks to divert workers away from class consciousness to the terrain of "identity politics" in which ethnic, linguistic, and national "identity" is determinant and not membership of the same class. This poisonous ideology says that Mexican immigrant workers have more in common with the Mexican bourgeois elements than other workers.  Faced with the discontent of immigrant workers against their persecution "anti-racism" ties them to the state. The solution proposed to immigrants' problems invariably stresses the resort to bourgeois legality, whether it is recruiting workers to the capitalist trade unions, or immigration law reform, or enrollment of immigrant workers in electoral politics, or formal recognition of legal "rights."  Everything but the united class struggle of the proletariat.

The Communist Left's denunciation of the xenophobia and racism directed against immigrant workers is sharply distinguished from this anti-racist ideology. Our position is in direct continuity with the position defended by the revolutionary movement from the Communist League and the Communist Manifesto, the First International, the left in the Second International, the IWW, and the early Communist Parties. Our intervention stresses the fundamental unity of the proletariat, exposes the attempt of the bourgeoisie to divide the workers against themselves, opposes bourgeois legalism, identity politics, and inter-classism. For example, the ICC demonstrated this internationalist position in the US when it exposed the capitalist manipulation aimed at the demonstrations of 2006 (in favor of the legalization of immigrants) which were largely composed of Hispanic immigrants. As we wrote in Internationalism n° 139, these demonstrations were "in large measure a bourgeois manipulation," "totally on the terrain of the bourgeoisie, which provoked the demonstrations, manipulated them, controlled them, and openly led them," and were infected with nationalism, "whether it was Latino nationalism which cropped up in the opening moments of the demonstrations, or the sickening rush to affirm Americanism that followed more recently," which was "designed to completely short circuit any possibility for immigrants and American-born workers to recognize their essential unity."

Above all else, we must stand for the defense of the international unity of the working class. As proletarian internationalists we reject as bourgeois ideology such constructs as "cultural pollution," "linguistic pollution," "national identity," "distrust of foreigners," or "defence of the community or neighbourhood." On the contrary, our intervention must defend the historical acquisitions of the working class movement: that workers have no country; that the defense of national culture or language or identity is not a task or concern of the proletariat; that we must reject the efforts of those who try to use these bourgeois conceptions to exacerbate the differences within the working class, to undermine working class unity. Whatever intrusions of alien class ideology may have occurred historically, the red thread running through the entire history of the revolutionary workers movement is internationalist class solidarity and unity. The proletariat comes from many countries and speaks many languages but it is one worldwide class with the historic responsibility to confront the system of capitalist exploitation and oppression. We embrace the linguistic, cultural and ethnic diversity of our class as a strength, not a weakness, and stress the unity of the proletariat above all else and international proletarian solidarity in the face of attempts to divide us against ourselves. We must turn the principle that the workers have no country into a living reality that holds within itself the possibility to create a genuine human community in communist society. Anything else constitutes an abandonment of revolutionary principle.

Jerry Grevin, Winter 2009.




[1]. Muenz, Rainer. "Europe: Population and Migration in 2005." Retrieved Sept. 2009 from

[2]. Lenin, The Development of Capitalism in Russia - also quoted in the same World Revolution article.

[3]. Engels to Hermann Schlüter (1892) in Marx and Engels on the Irish Question, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1971. p. 354.

[4]. Mehring, Franz, Karl Marx, p. 164.

[5]. Ibid. p. 167.

[6]. Stekloff, G.M., History of the First International, England: 1928. Chapter 7.

[7]. Mehring, op cit., p. 419.

[8]. Ibid. p. 486

[9]. Lenin, V.I. "The International Socialist Congress in Stuttgart," Proletary n° 17, Oct. 20, 1907 (We leave aside in this text controversies concerning the question of "aristocracy of labour" that Lenin implies.)

[10]. Lenin, V.I., Letter to the Secretary of the Socialist Propaganda League, Nov. 9, 1915.

[11]. Marx and Engels, Letters to Americans, p. 162-3, 290 (cited in Draper's, Roots of American Communism.)

[12]. Engels, Letter to Schlüter, op cit.

[13]. White skin privilege theory was an ideological concoction of the 1960's new leftists, which claimed that a supposed deal between the ruling class and the white working class granted white workers a higher standard of living at the expense of black workers who were victimized by racism and discrimination.

[14]. Draper, Theodore. The Roots of American Communism. Pp. 80-83

[15]. Ibid. p.79.

[16]. See "2003/2004 Pew Hispanic Center/the Kaiser Family Foundation Survey of Latinos: Education" and Rambaut, Reuben G., Massey, Douglas, S. and Bean, Frank. D. "Linguistic Life Expectancies: Immigrant Language Retention in Southern California. Population and Development, 32 (3): 47-460. Sept. 2006.

[17] "Problems and Priorities,", retrieved June 11, 2008.

[18]. Sunday Express. April 6, 2008.

[19]. States News Service, Immigration Fact Check: Responding to Key Myths, June 22, 2007

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