The case against borders

Anarchy, by its very definition, requires that there be no borders. If there is no state, no unjust or illegitimate hierarchy imposing its will on a population, by what criteria do you even define a border? Clearly, in a truly free society, there is no justification for using some pre-determined criteria – be they racial or economic according to the predominant prejudice of the ruling class – to bar people from crossing an arbitrary line.

However, we live in a society where borders and border controls are viewed as not merely natural but necessary. Under the prevailing propaganda system, a majority of people have simply internalised the idea that borders are a perfectly natural and expected development of human civilisation, and moreover that without some system of controls at those borders we are only inviting some horrendous, unimaginable socio-economic catastrophe.

I challenge, to the contrary, that this is nothing more than statist dogma built upon a gross distortion of history and, moreover, that to continue and to strengthen the doctrine of borders and controls is merely to further perpetuate the systemic injustices that make them even vaguely “necessary” in the first instance.

Borders, as we know them today, are a product of the nation-state system that developed in the feudal age in Europe. This development is held, particularly by ethnic-nationalists, as a perfectly natural one: humans are genetically or evolutionarily predisposed towards those of the same ethnic grouping, and the state is a natural by-product of that, the embodiment of the national will in a ruling class.

It hardly needs stating that such a fanciful, pseudo-mystical notion is nothing less than sheer nonsense. Human society was once based on ethnic/kin affiliations in the tribal era, but with the Völkerwanderung (“wandering of the peoples”) that began in about 300 AD, new societal affiliations developed. Peter Kropotkin, in Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution describes the phenomenon well;

Races were mixing with races during those migrations, aborigines with immigrants, Aryans with Ural-Altayans; and it would have been no wonder if the social institutions which had kept them together in their mother countries had been totally wrecked during the stratification of races which took place in Europe and Asia. But they were not wrecked; they simply underwent the modification which was required by the new conditions of life.The Teutons, the Celts, the Scandinavians, the Slavonians, and others, when they first came in contact with the Romans, were in a transitional state of social organization. The clan unions, based upon a real or supposed common origin, had kept them together for many thousands of years in succession. But these unions could answer their purpose so long only as there were no separate families within the gens or clan itself. However, for causes already mentioned, the separate patriarchal family had slowly but steadily developed within the clans, and in the long run it evidently meant the individual accumulation of wealth and power, and the hereditary transmission of both. The frequent migrations of the barbarians and the ensuing wars only hastened the division of the gentes into separate families, while the dispersing of stems and their mingling with strangers offered singular facilities for the ultimate disintegration of those unions which were based upon kinship. The barbarians thus stood in a position of either seeing their clans dissolved into loose aggregations of families, of which the wealthiest, especially if combining sacerdotal functions or military repute with wealth, would have succeeded in imposing their authority upon the others; or of finding out some new form of organization based upon some new principle.
Many stems had no force to resist disintegration: they broke up and were lost for history. But the more vigorous ones did not disintegrate. They came out of the ordeal with a new organization — the village community — which kept them together for the next fifteen centuries or more. The conception of a common territory, appropriated or protected by common efforts, was elaborated, and it took the place of the vanishing conceptions of common descent.

Thus, what we have is not a natural process of ethnic segregation but the evolution from ethnic social organisation into a more civic, communal society based upon common territory. This structure, as Kropotkin explains, “recognized the independence of the family and even emphasized it, the village community disclaiming all rights of interference in what was going on within the family enclosure; it gave much more freedom to personal initiative; it was not hostile in principle to union between men of different descent, and it maintained at the same time the necessary cohesion of action and thought, while it was strong enough to oppose the dominative tendencies of the minorities of wizards, priests, and professional or distinguished warriors.”

The natural progression of evolution, then, is this “universal” transition towards a libertarian social order which “did not, and could not, recognize anything” in the form of “private property in the land” as “the land was the common property of the tribe, or of the whole stem, and the village community itself owned its part of the tribal territory.” In fact, it was the violence of “a long succession of centuries which was required to bring the barbarians under the dominion of States organized upon the Roman or Byzantine pattern.”

Noam Chomsky, too, confirms the neccesity of force to bring about the nation-state model;

Nation-state systems basically arose in Europe in their modern sense, and they’re extremely unnatural social organizations. They had to be imposed on the populations by violence, extreme violence. Just look at the history of modern Europe, it’s a history of savage wars and destruction going back centuries.

What we have, then, is a history which utterly contradicts the Romantic, ethnic-nationalist view of nation-states being a natural product of human evolution. The state is nothing but an abberation, borders being the territorial limits of a violent coercion imposed from the top-down against the more natural social organisation from the bottom-up.

Border controls, meanwhile, are an even more recent development. In their manifesto, the activist group No One is Illegal (NOII) explains the origins of these controls in racist sentiments and organised fascist campaigns;

Immigration controls are not fascism. Detention centres are not extermination camps. However immigration laws are different from other laws in one other significant way. They are the result, at least in part, of organised fascist activity. This country’s first controls were contained in the 1905 Aliens Act and were directed at Jewish refugees fleeing anti-semitism in Eastern Europe and Russia. A major, perhaps the major, reason for the implementation of this legislation was the agitation of the British Brothers League. This was a proto fascistic organization which was formed in 1901 specifically around the demand for controls, which organized major demonstrations in London’s East End and which can legitimately be viewed as the main force behind the legislation. The first controls directed against black people — the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act — quickly followed events in Notting Hill and Nottingham in 1958. These were the so-called “race riots” — so-called to give a spurious impression of both spontaneity and non-political street fighting. The reality was that these physical and political attacks on black people were engineered by explicitly fascist organizations such as Oswald Moseley’s Union Movement and Colin Jordan’s White Defence League. And these organizations had a specific demand — immigration controls. Fascist front organizations such as the British Immigration Control Association subsequently continued the agitation until legislation was enacted. Oswald Mosley himself was quoted in the left-wing Reynolds News (5/11/61) as claiming the Bill leading to the 1962 Act was the “first success” for fascist activity in this country.

Immigration laws are inherently racist, since their purpose is to exclude outsiders. And they feed and legitimise racism. Far from being a natural feature of the political landscape, they are a relatively recent and disastrous distortion of it, explicable only by racism.

In the modern era, the ideological driving force behind such controls is not racial but economic. Without a doubt, racist sentiments are still a key element in the propaganda campaign used to reinforce their existence as a neccesary imposition upon freedom of movement. However, the concerns of state and corporate planners with regards migration controls are capital-based.

Whilst capital has complete freedom of movement, people do not. We are restricted based on our “economic worth” to the corporate class, divided into citizens and non-citizens based upon our usefulness to profit margins. One element of the working class is played off against the other on the basis of status as “indigenous” or “immigrants” by the very people we should be uniting against. This is the true value of migration controls – it allows entrenched power to strengthen its position by playing upon racist sentiments and uses nationalism to protect against the internationalism neccesary to take on those whose policies are at the real root of our problems.

But, even amongst people who accept all of the above arguments, there remains one – supposedly – inescapable reality. Mass migration. If it were not for borders and border controls, then we would be “swamped” by the sheer number of people who are migrating from their homes towards the west every day. We would be overcrowded, fighting for resources, drowning in crime, our infrastructure would collapse, and so on.

However, such an argument assumes that those who advocate an end to the border regime simply want to scrap border controls and then let a chaotic free-for-all happen. This is, quite simply, not true at all.

Mass migration has absolutely nothing to do with how “tough” or “soft” border controls may be. Mass migration is a product of the unjust and often violent military and economic policies that displace people on a massive scale. On important example is the General Agreement on Trade and Tarrifs (GATT) that came about in the aftermath or World War II has esentially kept the colonial system alive through the establishment of “free trade areas” – essentially meaning that we have pried open the third world to our plunder. It’s something we’ve always done, but now there’s international legislation barring them from using protectionist tarriffs to prop-up their economies. This restriction enacted specifically to prevent the third world using precisely the measures that the developed world used to become developed.

This disparity is the driving force behind mass migration, and responsibility for it lies primarily in western hands. The United States and Great Britain have spent half a century imposing market fundamentalism through unaccountable bodies like the WTO, IMF, and World Bank, and legislation like GATT. This is not to mention military interventions, funding, arming, and mobilising of terrorist groups, propping up third-world dictators and pumping aid to them in order to keep corporate profits on a high.

The only way to end mass migration, then, is to end precisely these injustices. As the NOII manifesto concludes;

Many if not all of the arguments used to justify immigration controls are simply ludicrous and are more the result of racist-inspired moral panic than of any connection with reality. Such is the notion that the entire world population would come to this country if there were no controls: even if such an absurd notion were true, it should prompt concern for their reasons for coming rather than fear. Nonetheless these objections to open borders need to be answered and they require a socialist and anti-imperialist analysis. The objections about “overcrowding” can only be answered by discussing socialist use of resources — use based on needs not profits. The objection, the surreal objection, that migrants, immigrants and refugees obtain luxury housing and endless welfare compared to British workers needs to be answered both by pointing out the truth (namely that just the opposite is the case) but also by a recognition that benefits and welfare are woefully inadequate for everyone — both for the documented and the undocumented and that both have a shared interest in fighting for better welfare. The objection that those fleeing the devastation of the Third World have no right to come here can be met by pointing out the imperial responsibility for this devastation, both in the past and currently. As the Asian Youth Movement used to say “We are here because you were there”. The objection that a state has the right to control its own borders can only ultimately be answered by questioning the nature of the nation state and borders.

Border controls at best offer us wilful ignorance towards the reality of the world. At worst, and in practice, they are part of the very system that perpetuates the massive injustices that we see worldwide, which drive wars, displace people, and allow an entrenched power system which will happily favour today’s profits over tomorrow’s problems to drive us ever closer to complete self-destruction.

4 Responses to “The case against borders”
  1. nonameinthestreets says:

    I agree that we want open immigration, or in other words, no restrictions on where people can live or move to. But won’t there be borders in the sense of geographic territories which are united by a federation of councils? Assuming a participatory democracy of councils, beginning at the neighborhood level, then the ward level, and upwards to larger geographic areas… we eventually get to a geographic territory the size of a nation, which itself has a council of delegates, sent from councils at the next smaller geographic level. (And finally a global council of delegates.) So borders would determine which geographic territories are federated at a particular level. But these borders wouldn’t be for keeping people in or out. They would function similarly to ward boundaries within a city, or the boundaries between cities and towns within a state/province. Is that consistent with your views?

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  2. […] have already explained, in The case against borders, why defending the rights of migrants and opposing border control systems does not equal support […]

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