Material World – No Borders!

Socialists want a world without countries or borders or passports, where people are part of the great human family and can come and go as they wish, with no concept of migration or asylum. This is part of our aim of a global society with no poverty or hunger or war, where people co-operate for the common good and the resources of the planet belong to everyone, are used to meet human need and are subject to democratic control.

Borders, frontiers and walls are usually seen as an essential part of capitalism. The ruling capitalist class determine the laws and policies within the area they control, at least to the extent that capitalism allows them to do so. Among other things, this means laying down regulations about immigration, who can enter the country, where they can come from, which requirements they must meet, how long they can stay, which kind of jobs they can hold. Brexit was in part motivated by the desire to limit immigration and ‘control our borders’, rather than the EU having the final say in such matters.

However, there are some supporters of capitalism who advocate ‘open borders’, at least to the extent of allowing migration without any restrictions. For instance: ‘if workers could move freely around the world, the market would generally match people and jobs efficiently, but when governments intervene selectively, obstructing some workers from moving while actively encouraging others to do so, the market becomes distorted’ (Philippe Legrain: Immigrants).

The point is that capitalism often needs to ‘import’ workers from elsewhere, perhaps because of a shortage of those with the relevant skills or of those willing to do back-breaking labour; in Germany, for instance, a law was passed recently to make it easier for workers from outside the EU to move there. Borders and immigration controls are not compatible with the supposed ‘free market’, where supply and demand (of workers just as much as cars and chairs) will allegedly match each other by a kind of magic. After all, if you believe there should be no restrictions or taxes on movement of consumer goods or the export of capital, then logically neither should there be limits on workers moving around the globe.

Other arguments along similar lines can be found on the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation (, a ‘libertarian’ US think tank that stands for the more-or-less unfettered freedom of capitalists to exploit workers. A talk in 2014 by its president Jacob Hornberger included the absurd claim that ‘immigration controls are nothing more than socialist central planning’. His solution was ‘a free market in immigration’, with open borders, across which people could move freely. In such a system, ‘people would be free to come to the United States and enter into mutually beneficial labor relationships with American employers who would be willing to hire them.’ Borders would still exist, separating the world into different jurisdictions, but people would be free to cross them as they wish.

This is of course based on a ludicrous idea of how capitalism works. The relations between capitalists and workers are not ‘mutually beneficial’ but based on exploitation and a real gap in status between the two parties to the relationship. Wealth and power on one side, poverty and insecurity on the other. Supposedly open borders will not change this in the slightest.

Tim Marshall’s book Divided also deals with the issue of open borders. He refers to an article by the American economist Nathan Smith, which argues that ending migration controls would (in Smith’s words) ‘increase liberty, reduce global poverty, and accelerate economic growth.’ Labour would be allocated more efficiently, resulting in ‘global increases in productivity, leading the world economy to nearly double in size.’ This would ‘disproportionately benefit the world’s poorest people.’

Marshall objects to this proposal on two grounds. The first is that the initial migrants from impoverished countries would be those who could afford to do so, meaning fewer doctors, teachers and so on in the countries concerned. The second relates to ‘human nature’ or ‘group identity’: people tend not to like it when large groups of ‘outsiders’ descend on them. But this relates to what often happens now, in a society based on competition and shortages and ‘us versus them’, and is not a general feature of how people live. His book is full of examples of the appalling consequences of walls, such as the 2,500-mile fence that the Indian government has built along most of its border with Bangladesh. Over a third of the world’s countries have physical barriers along their borders.

These ideas (Legrain, Hornberger, Smith, and Marshall’s doubts too) are rooted in capitalism, a system which is based on dividing people and setting them against each other. Further, in a society where global heating and environmental damage are major problems, the idea of doubling the size of the world’s economy is not attractive. One of the priorities of socialism will be to provide decent food, housing, healthcare and education for all the world’s population. We cannot say now just what that would involve in terms of committing people and resources, but it will take place in a world where there really are no borders, no classes, no rulers and no governments. Decisions will be made democratically, at whatever level (local, regional, etc) is deemed appropriate. Having no borders does not mean there are no sub-divisions for administrative purposes, just that people will not be seen as belonging to some arbitrary part of the Earth and as somehow different from those who ‘belong’ elsewhere.


Next article: The passing politicians’ show – Uxbridge and Ulez ➤

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