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The alternative to poverty and immigrant-bashing
A world without borders

April 28, 2006 | Pages 8 and 9

ELIZABETH SCHULTE makes the case for international solidarity and the need for a socialist alternative.

JOSÉ GUTIÉRREZ grew up an orphan on the streets in Guatemala before he came to the U.S. in 1997. That year, he was detained and later released by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. In 2002, he became a Marine. A year later, he was one of the first soldiers to die in Iraq.

Only then was he awarded his U.S. citizenship.

The story of José Gutiérrez underlines the rank hypocrisy of all the talk about so-called "illegal" immigration. If you want to cross the border into the U.S. in the hopes of making a better life, you're a criminal. But if you lose your life doing the U.S. government's killing in Iraq, you've earned the right to be a citizen.

The fact is that borders only matter to the U.S. ruling class insofar as they help bolster its rule.

The U.S. military goes anywhere it pleases, regardless of national borders, and it claims it's fighting for democracy and freedom. Corporate America demands the right to produce its products wherever it wants, and send its goods to any country it pleases, regardless of borders.

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IN REALITY, national borders are made by and for the rich and powerful--to enforce or ignore at their will. As Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote in 1848 in the Communist Manifesto, "The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere."

Corporations move across borders and conduct business however they please, but the same rules don't apply to workers. Immigration rules and penalties are set up to control--but not stop--the flow of workers into the U.S.

And while the U.S. economy depends on a large pool of immigrant workers, the capitalist system thrives by keeping these workers' wages low. Marginalized immigrant workers, susceptible to arrest and deportation, are more likely to work low-paid, dangerous jobs--and less likely to speak up for their rights.

So the terror that immigrants face crossing the border through harsh desert climates or wading across rivers doesn't end there. It's an inevitable part of punitive border policies. This is true everywhere in the world where poor or persecuted people flee their native countries in search for better lives.

All the while, immigrants are vilified by politicians who claim they are "stealing jobs" and "sponging off the government." If they get away with this scapegoating, it can deflect some of the blame for stagnating wages, substandard living conditions or the gutting of social services away from themselves.

This age-old tactic is effective, but not always. The key is for all workers, no matter where they were born, to see who their real enemy is--the bosses and politicians who try to divide them. And beyond that, they must see the divisions in society created between workers of different ethnicities or nationalities as the means to keep each group divided to conquer all.

A united working class has the power to put an end to the exploitation and oppression of capitalism--and create a new socialist society in which the equality of all people is assured, and the priority is on meeting human needs, not enriching a tiny few.

Considering that national boundaries only benefit our rulers, it stands to reason that this society would dispense with these borders. Workers and the goods that people need would travel without restriction, from place to place.

Today, if a country is short of oil, its workers and the poor pay skyrocketing prices--or figure out how to do without. In a socialist society, workers from an oil-rich country would simply send this vital resource to those who need it. This would be impossible under capitalism, because there is no profit in it.

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THE KEY to this transformation is internationalism and international solidarity.

In 1912, when 20,000 textile workers in Lawrence, Mass.--a total of 26 nationalities among them--went on strike for better wages and conditions, they announced, "The flaxen-haired son of the North marches side by side with his dark-haired brother in the South." "They have toiled in together in one factory for one boss," continued their proclamation, "And now they have joined together in a great cause."

Today, with immigrant workers taking the initiative in mass protests around the country, all workers have an opportunity to build working-class solidarity and confidence. Let it be workers' solidarity and struggle that "nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere."

When workers organize together and win, unbelievable change can happen very quickly.

During the Paris Commune of 1871--an uprising that marked the first widespread experiment in workers governing society, if only for a brief time--French workers turned the warped priorities of class society on their head.

As Fredrick Engels described this revolution, "On March 30, the Commune abolished conscription and the standing army, and declared that the National Guard, in which all citizens capable of bearing arms were to be enrolled, was to be the sole armed force. It remitted all payments of rent for dwelling houses from October 1870 until April, the amounts already paid to be reckoned to a future rental period, and stopped all sales of articles pledged in the municipal pawnshops. On the same day, the foreigners elected to the Commune were confirmed in office, because 'the flag of the Commune is the flag of the World Republic.'

"On April 1, it was decided that the highest salary received by any employee of the Commune, and therefore also by its members themselves, might not exceed [the average wage of a worker]. On the following day, the Commune decreed the separation of the Church from the State...On the 6th, the guillotine was brought out by the 137th battalion of the National Guard, and publicly burned, amid great popular rejoicing.

"On the 12th, the Commune decided that the Victory Column on the Place Vendôme, which had been cast from guns captured by Napoleon after the war of 1809, should be demolished as a symbol of chauvinism and incitement to national hatred."

For socialism to succeed in any country, the struggle has to be international, embracing the demands of the working class of all nations and spreading those demands from country to country. In the words of Marx and Engels, "Workers of the world unite!"

We deserve better than the system we live under today--a world where no one is "illegal," a world without borders, a socialist future.

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