Karl Marx & Marxists on Open Borders

(This is an extract from an older post, modified and amplified.)

You can’t be a Marxist AND be for open borders. Karl Marx often argued that the importation of low-paid Irish immigrants to England forced them into hostile competition with English workers. He saw it as part of a system of exploitation, which divided the working class and which represented an extension of the colonial system. Rings a bell?

This is what Marx wrote in an April 9, 1870 letter for Sigfrid Meyer and August Vogt, from “Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels Selected correspondence,” Progress Publishers, 1975, pp. 220-224:

As for the English bourgeoisie, it has in the first place a common interest with the English aristocracy in turning Ireland into mere pasture land which provides the English market with meat and wool at the cheapest possible prices. It is likewise interested in reducing the Irish population by eviction and forcible emigration, to such a small number that English capital (capital invested in land leased for farming) can function there with “security”. It has the same interest in clearing the estates of Ireland as it had in the clearing of the agricultural districts of England and Scotland. The £6,000-10,000 absentee-landlord and other Irish revenues which at present flow annually to London have also to be taken into account.

But the English bourgeoisie has also much more important interests in the present economy of Ireland. Owing to the constantly increasing concentration of leaseholds, Ireland constantly sends her own surplus to the English labour market, and thus forces down wages and lowers the material and moral position of the English working class.

And most important of all! Every industrial and commercial centre in England now possesses a working class divided into two hostile camps, English proletarians and Irish proletarians. The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who lowers his standard of life. In relation to the Irish worker he regards himself as a member of the ruling nation and consequently he becomes a tool of the English aristocrats and capitalists against Ireland, thus strengthening their domination over himself. He cherishes religious, social, and national prejudices against the Irish worker. His attitude towards him is much the same as that of the “poor whites” to the Negroes in the former slave states of the U.S.A.. The Irishman pays him back with interest in his own money. He sees in the English worker both the accomplice and the stupid tool of the English rulers in Ireland.

This antagonism is artificially kept alive and intensified by the press, the pulpit, the comic papers, in short, by all the means at the disposal of the ruling classes. This antagonism is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organisation. It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And the latter is quite aware of this.

This is not a crazy discovery that I made by reading extensively on Marx. This is a fundamental, well-known point among Marx scholars, and reflected on EVERY SINGLE ONE of Marx’s many, many biographies out there. This was the official policy of Marxist parties until the day-before-yesterday, that is: until the Berlin Wall fell and they were co-opted by globalist capitalism.


This is what the philosopher Slavoj Zizek wrote on the subject in his very recent book “In defense of lost causes” (2017), p. 270:

One should be attentive here to how even those elements which appear as pure rightist racism are in fact a displaced version of working-class protests: of course there is a form of racism in demanding an end to the immigration of foreign workers who pose a threat to employment; however, one should bear in mind the simple fact that the influx of immigrant workers from the post-Communist countries is not the consequence of multiculturîJist tolerance —it is indeed part of the strategy of capital to hold in check workers’ demands —this is why, in the US, Bush did more for the legalization of the status of Mexican illegal immigrants than did the Democrats caught up by labor-union pressures. So, ironically, rightist racist populism is today the best argument that the “class struggle,” far from being “obsolete,” goes on — the lesson the Left should learn from it is that one should not commit the error symmetrical to that of the populist racist mystification/displacement of hatred onto foreigners, and to “throw the baby out with the bathwater, ” that is, to merely oppose populist anti-immigrant racism with multiculturalist openness, obliterating its displaced class content —benevolent as it wants to be, the simple insistence on tolerance is the most perfidious form of antiproletarian class struggle.

As Peter Turchin wrote in a recent blog post (from which I stole the pic above):

Not surprisingly, the American economic elites also were very well aware that a continuing influx of immigrants allowed them to depress worker wages and increase the returns on capital. Andrew Carnegie in 1886 compared immigration to “a golden stream which flows into the country each year”. During the nineteenth century the corporate community often used the American state to ensure that this “golden stream” would continue to flow. For example, in 1864 (during the Lincoln administration) Congress passed the Act to Encourage Immigration. One of its provisions was the establishment of the Federal Bureau of Immigration, whose explicit intent was “the development of a surplus labor force”. The business leaders today are much more circumspect about these issues. But one wonders, how many of them think in the same terms, even if they don’t speak publicly about it, instead choosing to emphasize the humanitarian aspects of migration.

It’s not hard to realize that the most-commonly cited example showing the alleged dependence of advanced 21st century economies on undocumented labor is fruit- and vegetable-picking, truly back-breaking work that I did for a while (all of nine hours, before I quit in disgust) in Queensland, Australia. The other? The nerve-wrecking shortage of cheap nannies and gardeners, hardly a working-class complaint.

You can see that open borders promoters are truly concerned about the plight of the landholders and top managers who can only afford to buy beach-houses if they pay Mexicans with fake papers less than the minimum wage. Heck, I feel for them too. Just don’t pretend that’s a Marxist stance, and I’ll have no problem with you. If you’re looking for a true Marxist who is an open borders supporter, you will have to check with the admirers of the Marx Brothers, or the Koch brothers.

About David Roman

Communicator. I tweet @dromanber.
This entry was posted in Sights and Sounds and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Karl Marx & Marxists on Open Borders

  1. Pingback: Rethinking Transhumanist Politics 3- Finding Political Causes to Support | Neotenianos

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.