Jesus & Borders: The World Belongs to Everyone

The other night, my wife Peggy and I were involved with friends from church in a conversation about borders. The question arose, because of immigration problems that have arisen throughout the world because of climate change and U.S. wars. I’m talking about the conflicts our government initiated in Central America during the 1980s, as well as the most recent campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lybia, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, not to mention miscellaneous dronings, and the drug war in Mexico. Every one of those debacles has created thousands of refugees.

During our discussion of borders, the question became, “What would Jesus say about them?” Surely, we can’t just ignore demarcations between countries, can we?”

My response is, “Actually, we can. Not only that, but we have done so repeatedly.” In fact, when you think about it, borders turn out to be  completely arbitrary, and the rich ignore them all the time. Only the rest of us are naïve enough to believe that lines on a map are somehow sacrosanct. It’s all a scam by the 1% to keep the world’s majority in line by creating captive labor forces.

Besides that, Jesus himself and the moral thrust of the Jewish tradition he represented by no means held borders inviolable when it came to immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.

Here’s what I mean:

Borders Are Arbitrary

In historical perspective, current demarcation lines dividing countries are totally artificial and changeable. Many of them, for instance in Africa and the Middle East, were drawn up in a field tent by basically ignorant imperial generals.

The colonial outsiders’ overriding interest was accessing the resources of the areas in question. So, they formed alliances with local chiefs, called them “kings” of their new “nations,” and drew those lines I mentioned describing the area the nouveau royalty would govern.

But the colonial conquerors did so without knowledge of traditional tribal habitats, shared languages, or blood connections between families their random lines separated. As a result, from the viewpoint of the groups divided, the problem with borders is not that people cross them, but that the borders cross peoples.

Closer to home, that ironic crossing phenomenon is best illustrated in the cases of Texas, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah. Before 1848, all those states were part of Mexico. Then following the Mexican-American War (1846-’48), the U.S. border crossed Mexicans in those new states and they suddenly became foreigners in what previously had been their own country.

In 1848, ordinary Mexicans viewed the entire process as highway robbery. As a result, their descendants often speak of contemporary Mexican migration to “America” as a Reconquista — a justified re-conquest of lands stolen from their forebears.

Nevertheless, 170 years later, U.S. presidents like Biden and Trump want to solidify America’s unlawful annexation of huge swaths of Mexico by laws and a wall to enforce this relatively new line of separation. The argument seems to be that borders are holy, have always been there, and that people who cross them are “illegals” and criminal. But that just raises questions about our rich confreres’ attitude towards the new lines drawn.

The Rich Disregard Borders

Fact is: The rich routinely disrespect borders in two principal ways, one juridically “legal” and the other completely otherwise.

For starters, so-called “legal” border crossings are claimed as a right by international corporations. According to its free enterprise principles, Wal-Mart, for example, has the right to set up shop wherever it wishes, regardless of any resulting impact on local merchants, farmers, or suppliers. Thus, capitalists claim license to cross into Mexico in pursuit of profit. They legalize their border crossing by signing agreements like NAFTA with their rich Mexican counterparts. The agreements exclude input from the huge populations of farmers, workers, and indigenous populations directly affected by the pacts in question.

In other words, workers (who are just as much a part of the capitalist equation as their employers) enjoy no similar entitlements. For them, borders are supposed to be inviolable, even though the boundaries create a captive labor force and prevent labor from imitating the rich by serving its own economic interests — by emigrating to wherever economic advantage dictates.

Workers everywhere intuitively recognize the double standard operative here. So, they defiantly cross borders without permission. That in large part is what we’re witnessing  in immigration problems at our own borders and across the world’s map.

The other disrespect for borders on the part of the rich is more insidious. It takes the form of their own defiant transgression of international law by crossing borders to drop bombs on poor people they deem “terrorists” wherever and whenever they’re found, without formal declaration of war. (Imagine if poor countries claimed that same right vis a vis their wealthy counterparts, because they consider the wealthy’s bombing raids and drone operations themselves as “terrorism.”) Let’s face it: in the so-called “war on terror,” borders have become completely meaningless — for the rich.

Jesus & Borders

As for the attitude of Jesus towards borders? We don’t have to guess. The Bible’s main thrust centralizes the question. The basic moral injunction of the Jewish Testament is to welcome the stranger, along  with caring for widows and orphans.

As a Jewish rabbi, Jesus is presented in Matthew’s gospel (Chapter 25) as doubling down on that traditional Hebrew command. I’m talking about the only description of the “last judgment” in the entire Christian Testament. There, Jesus is depicted as saying to people who sacralize borders, “Depart from me you cursed into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels . . . for I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me.”

Those are strong, strong words depicted as coming from”the Prince of Peace” and the one often remembered as “meek and mild.” At the very least, Matthew’s insistence on attributing them to the Master indicates the strength of Jesus’ teaching on the topic at hand. For him, it seems that borders were by no means sacrosanct in the face of human need.

Conclusion

The point is that we “Americans” need to re-examine our attitudes towards borders and border walls. Borders, after all, are not sacred to the rich. Never have been. So why should rich corporatists expect workers and refugees from their destructive and illegal border-crossings to respect boundaries the elite have drawn so arbitrarily and violated so cavalierly?

Brexit: The UK Joins the World-Wide Rebellion against Neoliberalism

Most of us are scratching our heads over the magnitude of the Labor Party’s loss in last week’s election in the United Kingdom. The mainstream media (MSM) would have us believe that the Tory Party’s victory under Boris Johnson represents a massive rejection of left politics by the British working class.

However, that’s by no means the only conclusion possible. Indeed, it is entirely credible to conclude the opposite, viz. that last week’s vote was a resounding victory for the working class. That is, it represented their rejection of the very type of free trade pacts that have made lives miserable for wage earners across the planet.

It’s also possible to conclude that the British elections have issued to the world a clarion call to reform all free trade pacts while suggesting a clear direction for reform.    

Let me explain.

The Elections and Brexit

To begin with, think about the elections and Brexit. 

That, of course, is what the voting was about – Brexit (British withdrawal from the European Union). No other country has yet exhibited the courage needed to do so – not even Greece, despite the extreme austerity the EU has imposed upon it for years – and despite the promises of SYRIZA and the will of the people expressed in huge demonstrations and national referenda.

So, unlike the Greeks, the Brits set the stage for the actual exit of a member state from the European Union, which is the kind of free trade pact that has cursed working classes for more than 25 years.

Remember that: the EU is basically a free trade arrangement. Its central feature is its single market allowing its “four freedoms:” free movement of goods, services, capital, and people within EU borders.

The EU was formed in 1993. Its counterpart across the pond, NAFTA (The North American Free Trade Agreement) was signed a year later. Then came CAFTA (The Central American Free Trade Agreement) in 2004. As indicated, working classes have been suffering ever since not only from NAFTA and CAFTA but from EU austerity administered by unelected and therefore unaccountable bureaucrats headquartered in far-off Brussels.  

With such hardship and lack of democratic control in mind, voters chose Johnson over Jeremy Corbyn. That’s because no one, including Corbyn and his Labor Party, was as clear as Johnson and his Tories about withdrawing from the EU come hell or high water.

On the other hand, Corbyn and Labor were not only relentlessly vilified by the country’s corporate media; they also remained ambivalent and split about Brexit. Together those factors proved fatal. The best the denigrated Laborites could do was to promise yet another referendum on the topic.

Clearly, that wasn’t enough. Evidently, the British were tired of the entire debate. As a result, Labor suffered the consequences. However, British laborers made the point that eluded their Greek counterparts: no more unelected decision-makers in Brussels, no more free trade agreements favoring capital over workers; no more neoliberal austerity, and no more unrestricted immigration to drive down wages.

Last week’s election results represented the Brits way of courageously joining the protests against neoliberal capitalism now taking place across the planet.

Free Trade and Immigration

Now, think about free trade agreements and that just-mentioned issue of immigration. Obviously, it has become a free trade sore point both here and in the United Kingdom. However, immigration pain has originated from opposite but intimately related sources.  

Within the boundaries of the EU, the immigrant problem has stemmed from the earlier-listed “four freedoms,” while in North and Central America it comes precisely from the fact that only three of those freedoms are honored.

More specifically, the EU free trade arrangement recognizes that provision of goods and services essentially involves both capital and labor as roughly equal partners. Consequently, if a treaty allows free movement of capital across borders, justice and the logic of capitalism demands that it also permit similar liberty to labor which is as essential to the free market equation as capital. So, borders must be permeable to immigrants from one member-country to another.

This recognition has led to major relocations of population across frontiers that were closed in the pre-EU world. Movements of this sort have occurred with a vengeance in Great Britain, whose borders have long been open to immigrants from the country’s former colonies, e.g. India and Pakistan.  Add to these the climate and war refugees who have also found refuge in Europe in general including Great Britain, and you’ll begin to understand why many there might blame their growing sense of lost national identity exclusively on the European Union. Boris Johnson has given effective voice to such discontent.

Similar unhappiness with the NAFTA and CAFTA has surfaced in North and Central America.

However, there the pinch of globalization is caused by closed rather than open borders.

That is, while NAFTA and CAFTA allow free movement of goods, services, and capital across the borders of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the countries of Central America, they deny such freedom of movement to labor. Consequently, the agreements have at their disposal a captive labor force. So, while capital can go wherever it finds low wages, Mexican labor for instance cannot freely move to high wage areas in the United States or Canada. This has been a source of great frustration (and poverty) for workers under NAFTA and CAFTA.

As a result, Latinix workers have taken matters into their own hands. In what some have called a modern reconquista (a reconquering or reclaiming) of lands confiscated from Mexico in the middle of the 19th century, thousands of immigrants from Mexico and Central America have ignored one-sided laws prohibiting labor’s mobility. Regardless of the consciousness behind them, their actions implicitly insist that if capital is allowed to move freely across borders, so should labor be permitted cross-border transit.

Such economic rebels added to victims of climate change and of U.S. wars in Central America during the 1980s comprise the immigrant multitudes that President Trump has blamed for U.S. economic problems. In reality, they represent the collateral damage of free trade pacts as much as do their counterparts in the European Union.

(In other words, despite Trump’s assertions, it is right wing capitalists not liberals or progressives who insist on absolutely open southern borders – however, for themselves, but not for workers.)

Reforming Free Trade

So, what’s the answer to the EU, NAFTA, and CAFTA conundrums? Is it abandonment of free trade agreements altogether?  Not necessarily. (And this brings us to the implications of reform involved in last week’s vote.)

In a word, the answer is DEMOCRACY.

That is, the defects of free trade agreements can only be remedied satisfactorily by democratizing them to protect jobs, cultures, and local social values.

To begin with, democracy demands that all stakeholders (not merely corporate representatives, lawyers, bureaucrats, and politicians) be present at the renegotiating conference table. This includes trade unionists, environmentalists, and groups representing the specific rights of indigenous peoples, women and children. All those affected must have equal voice and vote. Nothing else will work. Nothing else is just.

Yet, if all stakeholders have voice and vote, they will predictably complicate matters. (Democracy, remember, is messy.) Predictably, they’ll make demands that will radically restrain the freedoms of the corporations involved – even to the point of rendering unworkable the type of trade pacts we’ve come to know.

For instance, (and perhaps most crucially) workers in places not only like Greece and Italy, but in Mexico and Central America will require the same freedom their employers enjoy to move to where the money is. Developed world workers will demand compensation for their lost jobs. Everyone will vote for the unrestricted right to unionize. They’ll want seats on corporate boards of directors. At the same time, environmentalists will demand industrial technology that is clean and non-polluting. They’ll want waste and chemical dumps along with polluted rivers and aqua firs repaired.

Once again, meeting such demands requires profound democratic changes in common understandings of international trade arrangements. We can thank UK voters for suggesting that requirement in the clearest of terms.

Conclusion

Following Labor’s defeat in the UK, the corporate media and mainstream politicians have rushed in to announce the end of progressive programs like those advocated by Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders. For instance, Joe Biden argued that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s resounding victory should “warn Democrats against veering too far left in their fight to defeat President Donald Trump.”

Instead, thoughtful analysts should see the results of Great Britain’s electoral process as yet another instance of a world-wide rebellion against neoliberal capitalism. Bernie and Elizabeth Warren are essential elements of that insurgency.

True, voters have elected a Trump-like figure in Boris Johnson. And he will predictably immiserate the lives of wage earners even further. However, voters’ overriding intention was to reject EU membership once and for all. For them, one-sided free trade agreements that prioritize capital over labor are no longer acceptable.

Such unambiguous rejection of capitalism-as-we-know it, is now evident throughout the world – including at our border, where immigrants and refugees implicitly declare the system’s absolute failure in their own lives.   

The Peasants Are Coming: Brexit, Free Trade & Mass Migrations

Brexit & Refugees

On June 24th Great Britain shocked the world by voting to exit the European Union (Brexit). Some celebrated the succession as a left wing “Peasant Revolt” against so-called “free trade agreements.”  They were right. Europe (and the world) needs an economic revolution from below. And Brexit was a shot across the bow of corporate globalization.

Others however ascribed the Brexit to narrow right wing anti-immigrant nationalism. They were also correct. However right wing focus on immigrants as if they were the root and sum of Europe’s problems obscures potential connections of interest between the right and its revolutionary counterpart seeking lasting solutions to the problems Brexit lays bare. Those solutions must go far beyond building walls and otherwise restricting immigration. They have to address globalism’s inherent contradictions and the various causes of the largest movement of peoples in world history.

For starters, think of those unprecedented migrations in the light of globalism’s contradictions as reflected in free trade pacts in our hemisphere as compared with the European Union.

Over here, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and its Central American analogue (CAFTA) grant owners of capital the right to cross borders with abandon regardless of the destruction they wreak on local economies in Mexico, Central America, and elsewhere in the Global South. For instance, the dumping low-priced U.S. corn on Mexican markets has converted innumerable peasant farmers into urban workers seeking employment illegally in the United States.

The illegality results from NAFTA’s refusal to recognize that labor is just as essential as capital in the free market paradigm.  If so (and capitalist theory tells us it is), then logic dictates that the freedom of movement accorded one element, must also be granted the other.

However if labor were to enjoy the mobility of capital, the detrimental effects of globalism’s so-called “free trade” would become apparent to all. Workers from Mexico would be free to go where the money is – to the U.S. and Canada. In turn, workers in those countries would see their jobs threatened. They would rebel and reject corporate globalization by demanding the repeal of NAFTA and CAFTA.

Multi-national employers in the U.S. and Canada protect themselves from such reaction by formally pretending to stand with U.S. and Canadian workers against unrestricted immigration. Politically and with great bluster they support building walls. Actually, however, they find immigration essential because Global South workers are required, for example, to harvest tomatoes and lettuce in the United States. Immigrants also exert downward pressure on U.S. wages generally and in construction and service industries in particular. All of that is good for business. The wall-talk is just window dressing.

That’s what’s happening on this side of the pond.

By way of contrast, the granddaddy of all free trade agreements, the European Union (EU) has been less illogical than NAFTA and CAFTA. It has granted labor the same mobility as capital. So workers in the European Union are free to cross borders from economically depressed member states such as Bulgaria and Greece to where the money is in Germany and Great Britain. The results are predictable. In the context of a tight labor market induced by the Great Recession, a huge backlash has resulted against immigrants for reasons described above. Brexit was the outcome.

But the immigrant problem is far more complicated than meets the eye. Ignoring that complexity blocks necessarily nuanced responses. It also blocks union of those right and left wing concerns earlier referenced.

The fact is: not all immigrants are economic. Instead, there are really three types of immigrants taking part in today’s mass migrations. True: some contemporary refugees are economically driven. Many others however are war refugees; a third group seeks refuge from the effects of climate chaos. The legitimate interests of each of these groups dictate separate policy changes that are generally ignored in xenophobic rhetoric about building walls, and protecting national identity.

Economic immigrants are those earlier-mentioned working people who demand the same rights as big capital. Within the European Union, and as already indicated, they have been moving legally from low wage countries to higher wage venues.  In our hemisphere, workers from Mexico and Central America have intuitively followed free-trade logic. They have voted with their feet against the labor restrictions of NAFTA and CAFTA despite the trade agreements’ legal prohibitions.

For their part, war refugees are flooding the world as a result of United States’ and U.S.-supported bombing campaigns (including drones) in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Palestine, Yemen, and elsewhere. Such campaigns have demolished the refugees’ homes, and destroyed their communities and jobs. It’s no wonder then that they reluctantly seek refuge in Europe and the United States. Under international law, they have the legal right to do so. Morally speaking, those responsible for the bombings are most obliged to receive them. The culprit United States should lead the way.

Finally, refugees from climate chaos form a separate category. Many migrants from Syria, for instance, are fleeing not only U.S.-sponsored bombing raids; they are farmers whose fields have been devastated by a years-long drought. Other refugees from island nations and coastal regions find their homes swallowed by rising sea-levels caused by melting polar icecaps. As global temperatures and sea levels continue to rise, this category of refugees will soon dwarf the other two.

In light of such distinctions about free trade, the logic of globalized capitalism, and the three classes of refugees, clear remedies suggest themselves – all inspired by Brexit. In a word, the basic remedy is democracy. More specifically, required policy changes include: (1) Exiting all free trade agreements responsible for economic refugees; (2) Stopping the bombing and wars that create homeless refugees, and (3) Leaving fossil fuels in the ground while adopting mandatory regulations to prevent further warming of the planet.

Though unlikely, all of this is possible. As the Brexit vote demonstrates, there is nothing mandatory or inevitable about free trade agreements. In developing countries, they all can be replaced by what in the past was called “import substitution.” That meant industrialization by Global South economies and instituting protectionist policies to keep imports out and economic emigrants at home.

Such substitution is based three realizations: (1) that no country has ever achieved “developed” status by reliance on supplying raw materials and agricultural products to industrialized nations, (2) that such policy of protectionism and import substitution was itself responsible for the economic advancement of the United States, and (3) after World War II, it worked in Global South countries such as Costa Rica with the result of separating it from its unindustrialized neighbors as economically successful.

[Please note that if free trade agreements remain under consideration, democracy demands that their discussion involve all affected parties with equal representation and vote. Such negotiations would include environmentalists and their concerns for air, water plants and animals. They would involve workers whose jobs might be lost, and community members whose neighborhoods and cities might be devastated by mass emigration, increased pollution or by waves of immigrants. Here absolute transparency is required.  There can be no secret negotiations, top-secret documents, or one-sided elite authorship of policies that end up affecting millions of disenfranchised workers including women and children.]

If Brexit was the start of a peasant revolution, it’s time for all of us to join our brothers and sisters at the barricades across the pond, pitchforks in hand. Our enemies in this struggle are not immigrant workers victims of our wars, or those whom one-percenters call environmental extremists. They are instead the extremist negotiators of secret trade pacts, belligerent prosecutors of wars and obtuse deniers of humanly-induced climate change.

Those are the exploiters whom the Brexit vote indicates we must unite to overthrow and replace.