Texas Governor Greg Abbott sent the first busload of immigrants to Washington nearly two years ago in a cruel and dramatic effort to hold the Democrats’ feet to the fire on the issue of border crossings. Since then, “Operation Lone Star” has sent off nearly 100,000 migrants to sanctuary cities like Chicago and New York.
Abbott’s efforts, along with Ron DeSantis’ in Florida, aim to create a crisis around immigration in northern cities the likes of which Mayor Eric Adams declared would “destroy New York City.” Those are the ridiculous words of a politician desperate to deflect anger away from his administration’s attacks on housing, schools, and social services. Still, they are characteristic of a game of political football that can be seen beyond the United States.
Migration is surging around the world. The inter-imperialist rivalry between US and Chinese capitalism is ripping up the old world order, leading to new wars and increased instability. On top of this, climate change is disproportionately affecting poorer countries in the neocolonial world, especially among agricultural workers. Migration is the natural effect of this, and it is creating new challenges for the political elites.
Discredited by decades of attacks on its own working class, the liberal political establishment is now losing ground to right-wing populists who have no real answer to the crisis, but whose dramatic maneuvers will further destabilize global capitalism.
The Right-Wing War On Immigration
Anti-immigrant agendas are a key part of right-wing platforms arising internationally. Donald Trump has been facing criticism for a notably reactionary statement he made at a rally in December, saying that undocumented immigrants were “poisoning the blood of our nation.” What Trump said is shocking on its own, but he would feel right at home at so many similar rallies around the world.
In Ireland, an anti-immigration grouping is seeking to challenge as many as fifty local seats across the island in June’s elections. They are whipping up anger around the issue, directly causing a racist riot in Dublin last November. Rather than condemn the rioters, the response from the Rural Independent Group in the Irish Parliament was to motion for a debate about “illegal and undocumented people.”
In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party won the most seats in the November elections. A major point in their platform was their call for the country to stop admitting asylum seekers and to back out of treaties around asylum and refugees. Wilders is regularly compared to Trump for his racist and xenophobic statements like “what [right-wing people] really feel is a threat for the safety of their daughters … they are being called racist if they make a remark about ‘hey this is not our country anymore.’”
In Switzerland, the People’s Party became a leader in the national elections aided by attacks on the cost of asylum. The president of Tunisia’s racist rhetoric has sparked a wave of violence against sub-Saharan Africans. In South Africa, racist vigilante group Operation Dudula has registered itself as a political party. In country after country, immigrants and asylum seekers are common denominators in the advance of right-wing populism.
Sharpened rhetoric around immigration has put pressure on establishment politicians, and even some considered to be on the left, to accommodate these ideas in order to keep pace with their rivals on the right.
Die Linke, the left party in Germany, is a case study on the knock-on effect of this political environment. The right wing of Die Linke represented by Sahra Wagenknecht broke away to form its own party following a long series of factional disagreements. The 14-year member of German parliament named the new party after herself and based it on her own brand of populism.
Wagenknecht has been in office for a while as a member of the left, though she has not made calls for any real alternative to the capitalist system. It says something about the pressure in society to reject immigration that a figure nominally from the left has swung so far to the right on this issue. She has attacked “unregulated migration” with the aim of winning over support from the base of the far-right Alternative for Germany.
Establishment politicians are put under the same pressure. For the Turkish CHP, a part of distinguishing themselves as opposition to Erdoğan’s regime in the elections was to flex as being tougher on Syrian refugees. President Macron in France pushed through strict measures on immigration in order to cut across the appeal of the far right, though Marine Le Pen claimed it as an “ideological victory” for her party. Marine Le Pen may not be right about much, but that much is true. The short-sighted effort to undercut the base of the right by adopting right-wing measures is actually a gift to right-wing parties and politicians.
What’s The Appeal?
The scale of crises facing the capitalist system internationally is accelerating migration. Wars have broken out in Syria, Sudan, Ukraine, and Gaza. The effects of economic warfare from Western imperialism have fuelled profound crises in countries like Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba. Venezuela has one of the biggest displacement crises in the world with over seven million having left the country.
Populist candidates on the right are able to posture as fighting for the interests of working people by tapping into their justified anger at the profound cost of living crisis. Trump finds every opportunity he can to point to the failure of America’s economy and political system to provide a good life for the average person. When the liberal establishment gaslights people by saying the economy is actually very healthy, the “truth-telling” of the right can be an appealing alternative.
The reality is that reactionary figures like Trump are architects of the very cost of living crisis driving their popularity. It was Trump who gave hundreds of billions in handouts to major corporations during the early days of the pandemic, directly contributing to the inflationary crisis today. He has no intention of providing a genuine challenge to the root causes of insecurity and frustration in our society. When social services and housing markets are overburdened, who is to blame: a profit-based system that has left them completely inadequate or refugees seeking better conditions? For millions uncertain of their futures, the right-wing’s xenophobic arguments to the latter can carry a lot of weight.
Socialist Change For Migrants And All Working People!
Accommodation to anti-immigrant ideas should be a complete nonstarter for working people. The bosses thrive off of a divide-and-rule strategy which keeps us fighting among ourselves. Immigrants are used by this system as a cheap and easily exploitable source of labor, but can also be scapegoated by cynical politicians to distract domestic-born workers from the real faults in society.
What we need is a mass movement of domestic-bornworkers and migrants in solidarity with each other for genuine change. Legalization and equal rights for undocumented people, an end to deportation, and accommodation for asylum seekers would actually strengthen our position overall by undermining the efforts to divide us. A fight for massive expansions in good jobs, social housing, and social spending would begin to tackle the uncertain conditions that give right populism its edge today, and benefit both immigrant and domestic-born workers.
This type of change cannot happen to the necessary extent under the capitalist system which is built on profit at the expense of billions of people’s livelihood. Only a socialist planned economy under the democratic control of working people could fully address the cause of this crisis: capitalism’s ruthless system of “dog eat dog” exploitation playing out on a global scale. The migration crisis proves why this kind of change would need to be international. Workers in the biggest economies should oppose economic warfare and the underdevelopment of neocolonial countries. Solidarity with would-be-migrants for socialist change in their home countries can push back on global inequality and point to a better world for everyone.