Revolution #48, May 28, 2006
The “Border Crisis” And Revolution: Stepping Back on Some Strategic Dimensions
This week George W. Bush gave a major speech on immigration. Two things must be said about this speech, right from the start:
One: While Bush may pose as a “moderate” on this issue, a study of his speech—and more than that, a real look at the bill he is pushing—shows a raft of very ominous and new repressive measures. Taken together these will amount to a radical change for the worse in the lives of millions, even tens of millions, of people.
Two: The struggle for immigrants’ rights must continue and intensify, reaching out more broadly and refusing to compromise on the fundamental rights of the immigrants. Especially in the face of the reactionary storm being whipped up against it in both the Congress and the airwaves, it is very important for this movement to renew its offensive and get the truth out there.
And with those two points, a third: there is a larger dimension at work in Bush’s proposal to further militarize an already-militarized border, this time with National Guard troops and a leap in electronic surveillance, and to force undocumented workers to carry government-issued, biometric ID cards. And that has to do with the real fear this government has of political upheaval, even revolutionary upheaval, that could “cross the border.”
How Did We Get Here?
Mexico today is an extremely oppressed and extremely complex nation going through breakneck changes. The 1994 NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Act) enabled U.S. capital to even more deeply penetrate, and twist, the Mexican economy, and it accelerated the upheaval in Mexican society. NAFTA drove even more peasants from the land and into the shantytowns of the cities. There has been industrialization and de-industrialization, and the old “social compact”—in which the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) basically ran the country’s political institutions—has been racked by turmoil and change.
Now it’s important to understand and never forget, especially when there’s so much talk about “defending ‘our’ borders” (both from open reactionaries and even some people who should know better), that this domination by the U.S. stretches all the way back to the U.S. military invasion of Mexico in 1846, and its robbery of half of Mexico’s territory. And note as well that the U.S. felt no hesitation about sending troops again to cross the border, this time in 1916, in an attempt to crush the Mexican Revolution.
This whole history and structure of exploitation and domination, combined with the intensified ravaging of Mexico today—along with U.S. capital’s drive to maximize exploitation of workers within the U.S.—has driven the big increase in undocumented workers from Mexico in the past decade. The money these workers send home plays a very important economic and social role in Mexico now—right now, it is the second largest source of foreign revenue in Mexico, right after oil. And the ways in which these workers are outlawed and suppressed within the U.S. makes them essential to the U.S. economy. They are “skinned twice” by the U.S. capitalists—and then skinned yet a third time when they are blamed for society’s many ills.
The U.S. ruling class needs to maintain this section of the proletariat in extremely exploited conditions, and they also fear even greater instability in Mexico if this situation were upset. At the same time, as they themselves say, “the system is broke”—the way that things are set up now is unleashing too many forces that the imperialists feel can threaten them, and so they are moving to make very radical and severely repressive changes in the whole setup.
The “Shadows” . . . and The Fascist “Solution”
Bush in his speech talked about how “illegal immigrants live in the shadows of our society. Many used forged documents to get jobs. . . They are part of American life, but they are beyond the reach and protection of American law.”
Over the past 25 years the state in the U.S. has qualitatively heightened its control over people; with Bush, this has taken a further leap, with the wiretap scandals being just the latest outrage. This is designed to both deal with dissent and protest that does not rise to the level of revolution, but it is also being done with the possibility of bigger things in mind. Among other things, these people remember the ‘60s. . . and if you think that they do not see the potential for upheaval, including revolutionary upheaval, that not only reaches but goes far beyond that era . . . and if you think that they are not readying this whole apparatus to do a very rapid and very thorough repressive clampdown should a situation arise in which they think they need it . . . then you may lack both imagination and realism.
Now the fact that 10 to 20 million people must live outside the law, lacking in any basic rights and liable to be arrested and deported at any moment, gives the capitalists huge power over the undocumented workers. This is why they are forced to “live in the shadows,” as Bush put it. But there is also a way in which this comes into conflict with the imperialists’ strategic aim for a qualitatively greater level of repression in society as a whole.
What does it mean, in light of that aim, for there to exist, right within the borders of the U.S., a population of 10 to 20 million people who have mastered the capabilities involved in “living outside the law” as a fact of daily life? How does that affect what the imperialists perceive to be their strategic need to straitjacket the population as a whole? And yet they can’t just kick everyone out overnight—even Tom Tancredo, as much as he may agitate for it, knows that such a move could cause massive social and political upheaval and possibly rebellion, both within the U.S. and Mexico too.
So the imperialists wonder: would it be better for them, at this point, to “regulate” the immigrants in a different way—finding a way to bring them “out of the shadows” legally, while still keeping them in a highly vulnerable and exploited position as “guest workers”? (See box “The Brutal Reality of ‘Guest Worker’ Programs” in this issue.)
Think about Bush’s call for “a new identification card for every legal foreign worker,” using “biometric technology, such as digital fingerprints, to make it tamperproof.” First off, no one should be forced to put up with that level of invasive control from this state. The people who run this society have proven over and over again that they will use anything open to them to spy on people and worse, and they will definitely use this to hound and more tightly control immigrants. When you add in the fact that many immigrants come to the U.S. with some important direct experience with and political understanding of what this empire does all over the world, and when you further add in the ways in which the recent upsurge has shown their potential to influence the political terrain very broadly, you can see even more clearly why these new, highly repressive measures are being pushed.
Not only that, there is no doubt that everyone with brown skin will suddenly be asked to prove their legality, and that only this new “biometric” card will do for them. On top of that, these fascists have unleashed a hysteria where there are now laws being passed where, for instance, anyone who rents to “an illegal” can be fined. So we will soon have a situation in which anyone who “looks like a Mexican” or “looks like a foreigner” will find themselves in a new version of South Africa: forced to “show their papers” whenever they want to do anything. And so yet another section of people becomes “presumed guilty.”
And think about this, too: how will such an ID card for “guest workers” even be useable unless all workers, documented or not, have such a card—for otherwise, couldn’t people just forge documents claiming that they were citizens? And once you need such a card for a job, how long before—in the name of “security” or even “convenience”—such cards become mandatory for everyone? How long before we’re living the movies Gattaca, Minority Report, or Enemy of the State? (http://rwor.org/a/v23/1130-39/1132/ids_gattaca.htm) If people resist these moves, they could boomerang.
And note also that Bush is calling for a huge expansion of “detention facilities” for undocumented workers—so-called “facilities” in which the conditions are often even worse than in the prisons of this country. These detention centers will be used for people who have already been categorized as criminals without trials, “aliens” not deserving of the most basic rights. And this will be brought to you courtesy of the same people who gave you Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo—not to mention the ugly, illegal repression that has been going on against Arab and South Asian immigrants since 9/11.
Finally, Bush is calling for MORE repression on the border—National Guard, more INS agents, etc. So let’s remember here too that this will translate into more deaths of people attempting to cross the border in even more remote and dangerous places. Since 1994 over 400 people a year have died trying to cross; that is an outrage and a crime, which will now grow worse if Bush and his “coalition of Democrats and ‘pro-business’ Republicans” get their “moderate” bill passed.
These proposals of Bush are not “moderate” at all; they are vicious attacks on immigrants and very ominous steps in the further fascization of U.S. society. At the same time, they are full of potential risk for Bush and the class he represents. Already this move has created even greater anger against the U.S. in Mexico, as well as other countries. The Sensenbrenner bill politically awakened the masses of immigrants in an unprecedented way, and where this all will end up is far from settled. There are problems that this is causing in the border regions of the Southwest, where the peoples and economies on both sides are very intertwined; these new measures will tear all that apart. And there is the question of what all these changes will do to the families of people who are here, where half the family is “legal” and half is not.
On the other hand, there are all these “America über alles” types who have been unleashed who don’t want to settle for anything short of what would amount to ethnic cleansing; their ruling class masters can’t, and don’t necessarily want to, just put these people back into the bottle. So you have people like Tancredo or Sensenbrenner threatening to “break ranks” with Bush; part of that is a show designed to placate these people and “give Bush room” to make the “final compromise” even more extremely repressive, but part of it reflects the real difficulties in pulling this off and real conflicts over how to do it. In short, there are many different ways in which this could backfire right in the faces of the imperialists. And that is why they are having problems actually pulling themselves together on this.
Polarization . . .
It’s important to get this point... The needs of the U.S. imperialists for immigrant labor on the one hand, and the ways in which the presence of millions of immigrants undermines the uniformity and “cohesiveness” of American culture, politics and thinking, forms a sharp contradiction for the U.S. rulers; and their very efforts to deal with this, as we showed above, can give rise to further centrifugal forces.
It’s not for nothing that Bush demanded in his speech that people speak English and “respect the flag” as a symbol of “shared ideals,” and that the Senate followed up by passing a law declaring English the “national language”; and it’s not for nothing that both the open enemies, as well as some of the friends (both well-meaning and false) of the immigrants make an issue out of people flying flags other than the U.S. imperialist rag. The U.S. rulers have real concern over holding this country together, on a reactionary basis, and they are using this crisis to push a very ugly xenophobia (that is, hatred of foreigners).
They are using immigrants as scapegoats for all the insecurities and problems and fears of the future that their system has forced on the majority of people in this country. And at the same time, they are trying to make the immigrants feel alone and isolated. “Blame them for your lives,” the rulers tell the native-born, pointing to the immigrants. “They’ll never help you,” these same rulers say to the immigrants, pointing to the native-born. This is a very ugly game, one that has historically led to death camps, and it has to be understood for what it is and opposed.
...And Repolarization for Revolution
Left to itself, this polarization will not end up anywhere good. We need to RE-polarize what now exists, and repolarize it for revolution. But this repolarization is not a one-size-fits-all thing; it has a lot of dimensions to it.
There is the continued need to help set the right demands and dividing lines in the movement for immigrants’ rights, struggling against those lines and programs which would lead the masses’ demands for freedom into a dead end—showing people with substantial arguments where the different positions will lead. There is the need to go among those people, both in the middle classes and in the working class, among all nationalities, who are holding back from or even opposing this movement, and speak to their questions and what is hanging them up and even driving them into backward stands, and win them over through debate and struggle. And while we are doing all that, we have to be bringing the full communist solution, and the real potential for revolution, out very broadly—in society overall and also within this movement itself.
Which gets us, finally, to our last point. The current crisis shows the potential for something way heavier to emerge. A few years back Caspar Weinberger—the Secretary of Defense under Reagan, a man who stood out even among imperialists for his vicious cold-bloodedness—wrote a novel set in 2003 that included a future U.S. military invasion of Mexico. Part of what precipitates the U.S. invasion in the novel is a massive influx of Mexican immigrants over the border. This gives a little bit of a window into the kinds of calculations being made by the imperialists, as well as what they want to begin getting the public to think about and accept.
Could that happen? Are they really considering this? Well, ask yourself this: what would it mean in today’s situation if a truly revolutionary movement, one that challenged the foundations of the existing imperialist relations with the U.S., were to emerge in Mexico? Or, what would it mean if even a figure like Hugo Chavez—i.e., someone who is not revolutionary and not trying to rupture with imperialism overall, but who would nonetheless seek to change some of the ways in which Mexico fits into the imperialist system in a way that conflicted with U.S. plans and objectives—what if someone like that took the reins, and there was big political ferment in Mexico? What would it mean, in this situation, for the U.S. to do what it has attempted to do with its coups, both successful and not, in places like Venezuela and Haiti? In fact, that is exactly the scenario envisioned in Weinberger’s book that leads to a U.S. invasion.
But again, there are many different things that can happen. Better forces, targeting imperialism itself and going for real liberation, could be in the mix of something or even in the lead. The point is that when you have the kind of social instability and crisis we have today as a backdrop, with the ruling class here moving to radically affect the ways that tens of millions of people both north and south of the border have survived, it becomes a political tinderbox. In that context, seemingly random events could become political flashpoints, and something that started out as one thing could develop into an uprising aimed against imperialist domination in Mexico.
In that light, it is quite possible to envision a scenario in which, on a qualitatively greater level than today, the development of the social situation and of revolutionary struggle in Mexico would interpenetrate with and have repercussions on the development of social contradictions and social struggles in the U.S. This could have a tremendous impact, this can influence native—born people in positive ways towards a more internationalist view. It would hold the potential for further igniting and positively interacting with rebellion, and with more conscious and organized revolutionary struggle, in the U.S. itself. And certainly, the imperialists, with their greatly heightened repression, are reacting in part to this possibility, as well as the more immediate concerns we’ve outlined.
Class-conscious proletarians and people of any strata who want justice would welcome an upsurge from south of the border, and would build massive political resistance against any attempts to suppress it or to intervene on any basis. And they would welcome, and lead others to welcome, the influence of that upheaval and turmoil finding political expression within the U.S. Within that, immigrants could very likely play a pivotal role, one that could express itself in many different forms—which is yet another reason why the U.S. ruling class now is intent on isolating and demonizing immigrants.
All that—again, including Caspar Weinberger’s novelistic scenario—has to be kept in mind when you think about Bush’s proposal to station the National Guard on the border. Clearly, there is a real element of attempting to “gain control” of the border here. But there is this larger dimension at work as well.
The whole contradiction around immigrants, along with other intense contradictions these imperialists face, could, as things develop, become part of a larger opening in society which could pose a possibility of making a revolution. But wrenching a revolutionary opening out of this whole calculus, even as it applies to the particular “faultline” of struggle around immigrants, would hardly be easy and certainly not automatic. The rulers are whipping up a fascist movement against immigrants, they are using this crisis to force further repressive measures into place, and they are in fact further militarizing the border—and they are doing all this on two tracks, so to speak, both dealing with the crisis of today as well as preparing for a bigger crisis tomorrow.
We have to confront this fully—both the weaknesses that are driving them to take these radical measures and the ways in which this can exacerbate some of their problems; as well as the ways in which they aim to and could strengthen their hand by doing this, if they succeed. Only through more deeply understanding this in all its motion and complexity—and on that basis mobilizing people to resist this, in different ways and dimensions—can we work in such a way so as to hasten the possibility of a possible opening for revolution...and develop the capability to seize on it should it occur.
That means hard work and hard struggle and risks. But when you think about what is bound up in just this one outrage of imperialism—the way that people are driven from their homes to be exploited and oppressed in foreign lands, and then hounded and humiliated and persecuted, the way that lives are torn apart and even destroyed—when you think of that...
And when you think of how the world really doesn’t have to be this way, and what kind of world people could bring into being, rising above the dog-eat-dog with a whole new way of living, cherishing diversity and building unity, when you think of what possibly could be won...
And when you think about the possibilities for revolution that are pregnant within these very contradictions, if we relate to this with a truly communist stand and method...
When you think of all that, then...isn’t it worth it to give everything you have to make it happen?
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