The following article appeared in Proletarian Revolution No. 65 (Fall 2002).

Spartacist Chauvinism on Immigration, Palestine

The Spartacist League (SL) is angry at the article in our last issue [“Correction on the Slogan ‘Open the Borders’” Proletarian Revolution No. 64], which explains why we have dropped the slogan “Open the Borders.” We pointed out that the slogan is often confused with eliminating borders, a utopian fantasy under imperialist capitalism. We adopted instead the more precise slogan, “End All Restrictions on Immigrants and Refugees.”

We also observed that the SL, along with the Bolshevik Tendency (BT) and the Internationalist Group (IG) that descend from them, oppose the slogan on chauvinist grounds: they are against ending all immigration restrictions by imperialist powers. We quoted from a Workers Vanguard article in 1974, making an argument which the Spartacists have repeated often since then:

However, on a sufficiently large scale, immigration flows could wipe out the national identity of the recipient countries. ... Unlimited immigration as a principle is incompatible with the right to national self-determination ... . (Workers Vanguard, Jan. 18, 1974.)

And we commented:

That is, a tide of poor proletarians from third world countries endangers the “national identity” of the advanced capitalist countries. This is obviously a cover-up for a national chauvinist position. The SL and its offspring defend the right to self-determination of the imperialist U.S. – which means the suppression of the national rights of people across the globe. Communists, in contrast, defend resisters and refugees against imperialism. As framed by the Bolsheviks, the right to self-determination distinguishes between oppressed and oppressors.

This, the Spartacists retort in the August 9 Workers Vanguard, is “slander” that distorts their article. The LRP, they say, is a “slimy centrist outfit.” But a closer look at the article shows just who is up to their necks in slime, as well as who the centrists are.

To refute the charge of imperialist chauvinism, the SL claims that its article showed concern for the rights of oppressed peoples. They point out that it cited the “trampling of Palestinian national rights by the massive immigration of Jewish refugees into Palestine” and the threat that an open border would have to Mexico’s economy. They add, “Above all, as dishonest polemicists, the LRP omits the central point of our article, that the call to ‘open the borders’ is ‘tantamount to advocating the abolition of national states under capitalism.’” The SL also claims that our new slogan “End All Restrictions on Immigrants and Refugees” is only a “rewording” of “Open the Borders.”

True, the WV article did note that Jewish immigration to Palestine trampled on Palestinian self-determination – more on that in a moment. As for Mexico, the article in question shows that they are offended by Mexican immigration into the U.S., not U.S. immigration to Mexico. For it warns that

... an “open” U.S./Mexico border would not only introduce impoverished Mexican laborers to flood the U.S. labor market, becoming an unprotected pool for capitalist superexploitation, but would also lead to well-financed American “colonists” buying up Mexican enterprises and real estate.

The image of Mexican workers “flooding” the U.S. echoes the rantings of racists. As for their concern about the Mexican economy, the imperialists don’t need open borders or immigration laws to superexploit workers there; they have done so all along. Raising the issue of migrant capital is an evasion by the Spartacists to justify a line that implies bans on migrant workers. They explain their attitude further:

If, for example, there were unlimited immigration into Northern Europe, the population influx from the Mediterranean basin would tend to dissolve the national identity of small countries like Holland and Belgium.

Shed a tear for the imperialists! Belgium and the Netherlands are small, but their colonialist ruling classes looted Indonesia and the Congo. Today Belgian and Dutch capital share in the imperialist superexploitation of the ex-colonies that drives masses into poverty and compels them to seek jobs in the countries of their imperial masters. In 1938 Trotsky observed that Czechoslovakia “is a small country and in the event of war her existence would be directly threatened.” But it was nevertheless an imperialist country that communists should not defend in wartime. (Writings 1937-38.) In contrast with Trotsky’s clarity, the Spartacist formulation blurs the crucial distinction between the imperialist and oppressed countries and therefore disguises an imperialist-chauvinist position.

Troubled by the obvious implications of their line, the 1974 Spartacists insisted that they did not support the immigration policies of bourgeois states. They wrote:

It would be impermissible, for example, for a communist parliamentary fraction to vote for any immigration quotas, even “liberal” ones, in a bourgeois parliament. Instead, they would vote against all racially and nationally discriminatory immigration quotas, pointing out that the real answer to concerns about “protecting jobs” is united international working-class action and socialist revolution.

Whichever Spartacist wrote the last half-sentence ought to have a word with the one who fretted so foully about the “flood” of “unprotected” Mexican immigrants.

But this whole passage is a dodge. Since the Spartacists oppose “unlimited immigration” as an unprincipled violation of national rights of the imperialist as well as the oppressed countries, they can only be for keeping excessive numbers of immigrants out. It is no excuse that they object to “discriminatory” quotas: any barrier to immigrants is discriminatory against non-natives and, in the imperialist countries, will be used chiefly against the darker-skinned.

The Spartacists and their ilk often state that they stand for the rights of any immigrant who manages to get across an imperialist border. For example, the IG defends “the right of anyone who has reached Dutch territory to remain here.” (The Internationalist No. 14.) But their logic implies that they will stand at the borders and help keep immigrants out if too many arrive.

Preventing “unlimited immigration” indeed means erecting guns and walls at the borders. The Spartacists openly endorsed such methods a few years afterward when they defended the Berlin Wall by which East Germany’s Stalinist rulers imprisoned workers and shot those trying to get out. The 1974 article correctly observes that “The Stalinists’ systematic disregard for and denial of individual liberties is a complete perversion of the Marxist program for the dictatorship of the proletariat.” On this question the 1974 Spartacists should have a word with their subsequent selves.

The gulf between the imperialist states and those they victimize is not just a matter of economic standing. It means that revolutionary communists side with the oppressed nation in every conflict with their oppressors. In particular, we apply the right of national self-determination to the oppressed nation and not to the oppressor when these are in conflict, as in the territory of Palestine (which includes Israel) today.

The Spartacists claim to support the democratic rights of both the oppressors and the oppressed. But that inevitably means defending the oppressors’ status quo. In our last issue, we noted that they use the slogan of self-determination to defend the preservation of Israel, a racism-based state erected on stolen land which enforces apartheid-like conditions and worse on the Palestinians of the “occupied territories.” So we surmised that the SL would not support the Palestinians’ “right of return” to their homeland. This “slander” they have chosen not to answer.

And it is clear why. To defend the right of return would threaten to “wipe out the national identity of the recipient country” – Israel. For imperialist chauvinists, when the rights of the oppressed and the oppressor conflict, guess who wins.