Notes on the Revolution / Column 14
October 4, 2019
Trump, immigration, and the limitations of the Left
By Charles McKelvey
Donald Trump is not wrong when he says, as he did at the 72nd Session of General Debate of the General Assembly of the United Nations, that all nations have the right to regulate and control migration into their countries, and that “mass illegal immigration is unfair, unsafe, and unsustainable for everyone involved,” including the receiving countries, which “are overburdened with more migrants than they can possibly accept;” and the migrants themselves, who are exploited, assaulted, and abused by smugglers and other criminal elements.
He maintains that radical activists and non-governmental organizations are encouraging illegal immigration and advocating open borders. He comes close to exposing the limited perspective of the defenders of the rights of immigrants in the United States, when he asserts that, cloaking themselves in the rhetoric of social justice, they implicitly support human smuggling, “empowering criminal organizations that prey on innocent men, women, and children.” And when he asserts that they put their “own false sense of virtue before the lives and wellbeing of countless innocent people. empowering criminal organizations that prey on innocent men, women, and children.”
The vulnerability of immigration activists to this kind of criticism results from the fact that they focus on the human rights of the immigrants, without being able to propagate a necessary comprehensive analysis of uncontrolled mass migration as a social problem. Such a necessary analysis would identify the factors that have caused the mass migration, which with respect to Latin America and the Caribbean, include the deepening levels of underdevelopment and poverty in the region, rooted in the colonial transformation of the region’s economies into suppliers of raw material and cheap labor, preserved through U.S. imperialist policies for a century and a quarter, and intensified by the neoliberal policies imposed on the region since 1980. Such an analysis would make evident that historic and contemporary U.S. policies are the principal cause of the problem of mass illegal migration today. And it would make evident that the solution lies in a reversal of direction of U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean, in which the U.S. would cooperate with the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean in their national projects of social and economic development, in accordance with the historic demands of the governments and social movements of the region. With such an analysis and proposal, the defenders of social justice would be proclaiming that the most basic right that is being denied to the migrant is the right to employment and decent living standards in one’s native land. It would be acknowledging that uncontrolled illegal immigration is indeed a social problem for the United States, and it would be proposing a solution, in the context of which it also would insist that the rights of all persons must be fully respected by the government of the United States, regardless of their migratory status.
When immigration activists disseminate such ideas as open borders, they fall into idealism, implying that the regulation by governments of migration flows into their nations, taking into account the nation’s economic and social needs, is not necessary. They imply that xenophobic and racist attitudes are heart of the problem, thus blaming the people for their concern and anxiety with respect unregulated migration flows.
When immigration activists fail to disseminate a comprehensive, historical, and global analysis and proposal, and when they disseminate idealist conceptions, they fuel the anti-immigration rhetoric and the anti-immigration policies that the Trump phenomenon represents. Trump, at least, recognizes that mass illegal migration is a problem, and he has a solution, however primitive.
It is easy for those of us who are defenders of social justice to criticize Trump for scapegoating immigrants, and to be incredulous at his sometimes-ridiculous statements. But it is he who has recognized that there is a social problem to which the political establishment has not attended in recent decades, because that political establishment has abandoned the nation and the people in defense of its interests. But the people, who live in a constant condition of ill-at-ease with respect to such questions such as employment, crime, and physical safety, are concerned about the issue of illegal immigration. Trump emerges to speak on their behalf.
Nor have the advocates of social justice attended to the problem, with their focus on the rights of the immigrants. They have natural allies in the form of the defenders the rights of the marginalized and excluded, such as blacks, women, Latinos, and LGBTs. But neither the defenders of the marginalized, nor Trump, nor the political establishment can marshal sufficient support to attain political consensus. In the absence of a comprehensive analysis and solution from the defenders of social justice, effectively explaining to the people the sources of the problem and the necessary road to addressing it, the nation will remain deeply divided, unable to address any of its problems.
When I was a young man, I often would find myself put off by what I took to be the superficial proposals and strategies of activists in the United States. I thought that the problem was that I was overly intellectual, that I wanted to have a thorough analysis of social problems before advocating a particular direction, and that such thorough analysis was too much for most people. But when I started extensive travel to Latin America nearly thirty years ago, I discovered that many Latin American activists, journalists, and leaders do in fact have a much more historical and comprehensive understanding, which guides their political practice, and that as a result, the people have to some extent developed a deeper level of understanding. We from the nations of the North could learn from the Latin American example, which finds its most advanced expression in revolutionary Cuba, where such tendencies are encouraged by all social institutions. It is a question of leaders who consider serious intellectual work as their duty, and academics whose work is tied to the demands of social movements. It is a question of a people that does not always have the time and the discipline to read, but appreciates the benefits that come from reading, and thus they listen attentively to those do. It is a question of a popular social movement that is rooted in historical, global, and scientific understanding. It is indeed possible; I have seen it so.
This is Charles McKelvey, reflecting on the unfolding global popular socialist revolution forged by our peoples in defense of humanity.
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