When I lived there for a year at the beginning of this century, Sweden stood out for its social democratic citizenship. Among the many distinct things that means, I was impressed by the benefits I didn’t expect, including the fact that I had access to no-nonsense, constructive (not policing) state assistance immediately, and that I could vote after a couple of months. I had political citizenship rights within weeks of living in Sweden. How democratic is that?! Lots of African Americans and other expropriated Americans never get political citizenship rights in the US. Who couldn’t vote in Sweden were expats. That kind of right to vote is what today’s Leftish No Borders advocates call “domicile citizenship,” though it’s not clear they know under what conditions it exists.
When I moved to Canada, that darling, that sweetheart of immigration advocates everywhere, I was struck by its opposite citizenship: I was not able to exercise citizenship rights for a decade, while I went through the residency and citizenship process. But people with a lot of money can readily buy citizenship rights in Canada. Expats enjoy citizenship. If you aren’t rich, residency is only a supplemental, contributing criterion for Canadian citizenship. It’s either Jus Sanguinis or money (Jus Divitiae) that efficiently makes the Canadian. And if you don’t believe me, well then let me tell you what a young, female African immigrant said at our surveillance-rich, monarchical swearing-in ceremony. New citizens were invited to give a speech about What Canadian Citizenship Means to Me. Her speech theme was: Canadian citizenship means, finally, I won’t be forced to submit to exploitation by Canadians so hard anymore. We could all relate, and she got a standing-O for it.
DHS and ICE are abominations, crimes against humanity. For sure, the brutal US approach to immigrants is enough to drive anyone crazy. In fact, I’ve seen that happen. It seems to me though that the problem is clear enough: Divest from policing and carceralism; impose borders and limits on your capitalist class, and tax them; and distribute wealth to support social reproduction and other productive economic contributions. And do like the Swedes: Make citizenship about living and contributing in a place, within communities, not about payoff.
In all the miserable time I was steered around by malevolent algorithms on Facebook, eventually the No Borders Left arose within social media. What frustrated me about them at the time was the stance they took: Borders are what cause capitalist inequality. Evidence? ICE and Global inequality.
Baffling. Would they explain their theory, flesh it out?
They would not. It was a moral principle dividing Good from Evil.
Most capitalists want the removal of all barriers to uprooting people, so that capitalists can mobilize and immoblize populations at whim, monopolize the human capacity for coordination, and substitute inputs (factors of production) without friction. Could a No Borders politics just be easily subsumed by that hegemonic force? Ruled irrelevant.
What struck me as distinctive about the Leftish No Borders mobilization is the “coalitional” involvement of Dem Party wonks (ever beating the two Dem Party electoral strategy dead horses: the sure support of 1) Suburban Moms and 2) geographic flushes of racialized people will permit peak Dem Party politicos to marry off their daughters to genuine Wall Street hedge fund managers), as well as the total lack of explanation or practical strategy. I am not alone. According to David Feldman, the No-Borders “principle has come to stand for migrant and immigrant justice;” but whereas promising Left movements are engaging practical politics and thinking strategically across many fields, Leftish No Borders advocates uniquely have not engaged practical politics and thinking strategically about immigration and citizenship at all (Catalyst 4(10): 148-9).
Given the obvious, capitalist No-Borders bedfellows, such an unusual dearth of Left theory and strategy in the 21st century should ring alarm bells. But apparently the Democratic Socialists voted thumbs up on the cosmopolitan, content-free, wonderfully-philosophical Open Borders principle. Somebody in there is killer at taking the group out for late-nite cigarettes and beer bonding. I think we can expect better than co-optable romantic idealism from the Left kids.
Feldman is trying to operationalize Leftish Open Borders politics as “domicile citizenship.” Perhaps related to the fact that these folks don’t recognize that such a thing exists within a certain, specific framework, the concept still is not as rigorous as normal Left thought. How is domicile citizenship going to get rid of global inequality, particularly if you recognize that people are not inputs or factors of production to be frictionlessly swapped around? A sociologist would know that empirically, most people (Understandably, this does not include young, educated Brits.) hate leaving home, and most displaced people just want to get back home. A sociologist would also know why: It takes a lot of communal work for individual people to adapt to a complex place and society. We can call that cultural and social capital for short, so that we can understand that these are a kind of asset, resources that people, a social species, require to live. If you don’t get assets with money, they require work. The No Borders Leftish vision is so conservative- economistic, so anti-sociological, it really makes you wonder why the Left is dicking around with it.
How can you make migration just when the propulsion for migration–not just capitalist inequality (as if that were an effect of geography, rather than the cause of geographically-distributed life chances; as if capital is immobile), but also imperial war and climate crisis–remains utterly unjust? What is the Border-free vision? Billions of poor people–that is to say, people without assets, stripped of even socio-cultural resources–chasing capital all around the globe? Domicile (Swedish) citizenship is better than “national” citizenship or (Canadian) citizenship-by-effective demand, but you don’t get there through romantic idealism. And while it can contribute to working-class strength (potentia and potestas) within a polity, domicile citizenship will not in and of itself do much about global monopoly capitalist inequality. And nor will stripping away political, civil, and social citizenship rights.
Occam’s Razor: Just fight against population managment in its disrupt and mobilize (war) and isolation and immobilization (policing and carceralism) modes. If all you want is a tite slogan: Defund Police > No Borders. Fight for people to live peacefully where they want to, which, except for capitalists, is usually home. Fight for making citizenship rights based on where you live, not what’s in your Cayman Islands vault. And fight for democratic citizenship rights, because those have been under enormous assault, and they’re all that protect us from the powerful in a world gone inequality- and inegalitarianism-mad. There’s something really fishy, really rotten about No Borders, kill-citizenship-off politics. Their goal seems to be an Abu Dhabi planet. That’s not democratic socialism. That’s not even Mexico.
We should always strive for internationalism, for the democratic motley crew, and that’s a tough row to hoe (See Erica Benner’s Actually Existing Nationalisms). But the sacred Borderless world will come after and not before the bloody, global Communist (or at least social democratic) revolution.
Lion’s Not Gonna Lie Down with the Lamb, Fremds.
In response to my friend’s responses below, I would like to first agree that seizing the means of production is crucial. That’s why I’m interested in the great real estate buy-up by billionaires, particularly in the North American West, and in the work of Katharina Pistor, author of The Code of Capital.
I would like to second acknowledge that, yes, I wrote this blog as if my ideas emerged from mere personal experience. Allow me to clarify my meaning by situating this blog narrative choice within the context of my scholarly expertise: I study the differences between societies founded on egaliberte socialist ideas and organization (including Swedish social democratic society) and societies that have gone to extreme lengths to exclude egaliberte socialist organization with dedicated, massive policing, violence, institutionalized slavery, and political and economic exclusion (some of which may be targeted to racialized egaliberte organization that would otherwise build toward egaliberte, socialist policy and institutions). My operating hypothesis is that including (rather than excluding) socialist ideas and organization permits egaliberte path dependency, or the persistence of egaliberte policy, ideas, culture, and institutions through “abeyance” historical periods of international and domestic, expropriative-capitalist, conservative-liberal movement. Methodologically, while “ideal types” are never pure in the real world, they do indicate tendencies, and we can recognize differences and similarities in proportion. I find that there can be significant differences between socialist-inclusive v. socialist-exclusive polities.
The reason why I am interested in the “marginal” long-term impact of socialism is because I am a big believer in politically-conscious and entitled capitalists/expropriators and their many, vast layers of police/military and other enforcements not called police per se. I don’t believe in them like, “they’re good.” I believe that they are normally extremely-formidable constraints upon, for example, seizing the means of production. So that, knowing this, socialism has to be pursued where we can; and I don’t have much respect for the sport of complaining about the socialism that people have managed to squeak through, with all their blood, sweat, and tears. Jacobin-style aesthetics are great, but socialism is not the pretty baby of any true-hearted, blood-brother tree fort gang. I hope we can agree that socialism is the punctuated, nonlinear project of millennia.
And to my mind, the nice thing about Sweden is, though it is yet another society of flawed humans, and they do maintain a corrupting class compromise, nonetheless it’s also a society including a lot of philosophical materialists who understand, and have long understood, democratic Enlightenment and egaliberte, so in effect, run things like they were Sociologists who comprehend both procedural and substantive rationality and have a valid theory of scientific epistemology. I recognize, and regret, that not everyone sees that approach as optimal. Most Anglo-Americans prefer things to be run by gamers and enforced by procedural rationalists, with dashes of morality provided by irrationalists. You know, where everyone specializes and maxes-out their one thing. They can be paid/whipped to produce that effect, to embody it. Let’s just say, while I don’t romanticize it, I do prefer the Swedish.
While the findings of significant social difference between socialist-path and socialist-excluding polities may remind the casual observer of jejeune or (very specific, not universal) German Soc-Dem “idealization” or dehistoricization/fetishization of social democracy–eg. idealization in relation to a strategic agenda that disavows socialism–it is nonetheless distinct from such particular reduction. Perhaps the common dismissal of difference is an echo of the West European 20th century turn against the Soviet Union toward a postmodern aesthetics and “hermeneutic innocence,” as discussed by Yasha Levine, Nancy Fraser, Daniel Zamora, Staf Callewaert, Jan Rehmann, Domenico Losurdo, and on. My research agenda nonetheless reflects a reasonable temporal and passion distance from the 20th century Atlantic elite intellectual subclass. That era’s preoccupations have proven limited, and we can now identify how. Unlike 19th-century political opposition to German social democracy, and 20th-century structural-marxist, romantic, anarchist, and Atlantic ruling class opposition to both theory literacy and Swedish social democracy, my model can acknowledge and explain real policy, institutional, and cultural differences without jumping to the unwarranted, invalid conclusion that social democracy obviates and invalidates socialism.
1) The belief that social democracy is the antithesis of socialism does not distinguish Marxism, and can be very unhelpful to Marxism. It is an invalid, anachronistic, and parochial belief, in no way integral to Marxism as a living Enlightenment social science. It smacks of Jakarta Method.
I indicate above that domicile citizenship can itself not reduce global income or wealth inequality much. Because however domicile citizenship is earned as a result of working-class organization culminating in political power and state accountability to the domestic working class, it further permits the domestic working-class capacity to direct the state toward internationalist working-class solidarity policy. This is superior to the full, expropriative-capitalist-coalition No Borders agenda, which provides support to Atlantic ruling class potentas effecting such policy as bombing out homes in strategic parts of the world, mobilizing vulnerable labour, and continuing to remove all working-class accountable citizenship remnants in capitalist-core states, as well as removing state border regulation (eg. passports, though other biometric surveillance and credit-accounting techniques are now possible so we shouldn’t get stuck on passports) and removing state regulation from employers.
No Borders erodes the potentia of the multitude. In neither case–losing sight of the mechanisms of migration propulsion, dismantling social and political citizenship–is class (and related social status) policing or carceralism challenged. The immigrant prisons emerged from the surplus-labour prison model; they remain interchangeable. COVID-19 biosecurity instructed us that there is plenty of capacity to expand policing and detention further, as policing and detention was universalized across the non-police working-class and smallholders, particularly women and people of color.
Nor do working-class and smallholding people, who must rely on both dangerous mass-commodity production and some state support within highly-commodified (consumer) expropriative-capitalist contexts or fail to thrive, retain any capacity in the No Borders ideal to prevent their own disorganization by the amassed policing forces where citizenship rights are tenuous or withdrawn. (The difference within less-commodified contexts is that working-class and smallholding people must rely on uncommodified supports from nature, or fail to thrive…or hit the road, emigrate. This is the capitalist motivational system. Working-class and smallholding people are united around the world by their incapacity to thrive “independently” in capitalism. Only capitalists, in either exploiting or expropriating mode, can independently thrive and secure homes–means of reproduction—from which to organize society in capitalism.)
So when I’m saying, critically, that domicile citizenship does not solve global income or economic inequality, I’m including Swedish domicile citizenship. I am saying it’s better at securing working-class communication and organizational capacity than Jus Divitiae; but in making the contrast, I’m not idealizing it, you follow? The additional thing I’m saying is that the absolute No Borders agenda really does not solve global income or economic inequality.
I am also saying read Erica Benner’s Actually-Existing Nationalisms to see how the strategic contest over how to relate through and across borders played out in Marx’s time, and how Marx changed his positions on the issues. That history indicates that Marxists probably can’t solve borders in the expropriative-capitalist world. But instead of sinking into idealistic-romantic discourse, they can be internationalist in other ways involving organizing, Abolition, and relationship- and institution-building.
Any iteration of No Borders policy perpetuates the peculiar, Western- imperial core, 20th century post-war misapplication Nietzsche, via the invalid theory that the absolute suppression of the social, human capacities (semi-autonomous communication and coordination) of the working-class (eg. by the withdrawal of citizenship rights on top of unequal and inegalitarian capitalist economic relations) will leave communism by default (Because, per Nietzsche, distress leads to power. Which can be true if you’re an entitled aristocrat “wounded” by democracy. Otherwise, not so much. The assumptions tend to be invalid when liberal and anarchist philosophers reimagine Nietzsche as a democrat). You know, it’s true that chattel slavery gave the world beautiful music, I guess.
But there is not a good defense of the empirically-invalid hypothesis that communism is a bare-life default, rather than the product of communication and organizing. Social movements scholars have put the deprivation -leads-to-political-power hypothesis to bed. The bare-life = communism idea is not only inappropriately transplanted from theory about aristocratic political power, it is also rooted in the old night soil of financial metropole working-class subordination (ignoring zones of capitalist expropriation and reimagining capitalism as a simple relation of exploitation, leaving plenty of room for working-class human capacity expression), intersecting with post-war Weltschmerz and antihumanism, puerile impatience at the post-war American working class for being reorganized–principally by finance, commanding other business and marketers, political parties, military and police, and religious leaders–into consumers, and excitement at the at-the-time-fresh postcolonialism, also since crushed by imperial state violence (See Bevins’ The Jakarta Method). We need to move on from conservatizing 20th century romanticism. We need to move toward Erica Benner, Domenico Losurdo, and Jan Rehmann’s deciphering (as opposed to hermeneutic innocence) intellectual work, and toward Jane McAlevey’s tactical and strategic organizing.
2) A Marxist does not need to accept the dated, invalid, and peculiar assumption of bare life as the father of communism, nor its products. The assumption fits within aristocratic Nietzschean philosophy, but can be very unhelpful to Marxism. This is not agreeing that effective Marxism is confined to Salon/Authoritarian Marxism. Quite the opposite, the assertion is that effective Marxism is an egaliberte praxis.