Countries like Canada have devastated peoples' lives around the world. This has been done via direct military actions (Afghanistan), destabilization campaigns (Venezuela), and support for vicious proxy states (Israel). By far one of the most significant ways this happens is through the looting of the resources of much of the world, through “investments” and “development”, in peace and war alike. While Canadians live on stolen land, it is equally true that everything that goes into sustaining us – from our clothing to our electronics to our food and medicines, and more – is effectively stolen from people in the exploited countries (what some call the Global South). This is an ongoing material transfer of wealth, the largest in human history. To the extent that one has or can reasonably hope for or demand a “First World” standard of living, one is a beneficiary of this process.
Borders are essential to propping up this situation. They are a legal mechanism for maintaining a polarized world, where most production has been concentrated in places where people work for very little pay and cannot afford the goods they produce. Without border controls, labor costs would tend to equalize across the world (or else new more blatant mechanisms would need to be created to maintain their vast discrepancy).
Little wonder, in such a situation, that some people might seek to find a better life, leaving those countries which are condemned to produce the world’s wealth, and relocating to those where the world’s wealth is largely consumed. When you add the wars and climate chaos inflicted on the Global South into the mix, it is testimony to how vicious and racist the Global North societies are that more people do not try to move here.
Even within the Global North societies, borders continue to play an important role. They establish and create classes of workers – those who are undocumented, or those who are legally permitted to work under various oppressive regimes like Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program, for instance – who can be forced to work in conditions and for wages well below the First World average. This is useful to capitalism (and to many Canadians) because some labor just can’t be done thousands of kilometers away.
Another, more complicated, role that borders play, is in preventing international class solidarity (and therefore, truly anti-capitalist class consciousness) from existing as more than a fringe phenomenon amongst the Global North populations which benefit from this global class divide. This is true for all communities which benefit from this divide – including communities historically from the Global South – but it is most especially true for so-called “white” people, whose identity both historically and actually doesn’t really exist outside of relations of parasitism and exploitation.
At the same time, this is not a stable situation. There have been massive challenges to this polarized world system, ever since colonialism laid the basis for imperialism when Europe conquered most of the planet. In the 20th century a wave of anti-colonial and left-wing revolutions sent the system into a crisis. For a moment, it looked like most of the planet had been freed, and it was assumed that the imperialist system would not survive. Instead, the system counterattacked, divided its opponents, and revamped its internal setup.
It was in this context that Quebec underwent what is known as the “Quiet Revolution” and that attempts were made to renegotiate Confederation, one of many examples around the world of some contradictions being ironed out as imperialism re-evaluated its priorities. French Canadians had constituted a subordinate nation within Canada, not nearly as oppressed as Indigenous people, Black people, or migrants from the Global South, but nonetheless living a very different reality than English Canadians. To the extent that French Canadians did identify as “white”, this chafed all the more. This became a source of instability for imperialism, and an unnecessary one at that, so the situation was allowed to change. Now, as we know, Québécois can be as white and privileged (and insecure, and potentially oppressed) as any other Canadian. Gone are the days when Quebec nationalists worked hand in hand with the Black Panthers and others to overthrow the racist system; today they are far more likely to be working with white supremacist groups to defend their “identity.”
Another change that imperialism made to deal with its crisis, is that it got rid of the welfare state that had existed for a few “golden decades” after World War II, and started instituting neoliberalism and austerity. While First World populations were still highly privileged compared to those in the exploited countries, they were being sent the message that they shouldn’t take anything for granted, nobody was going to get a free ride. Wages have stagnated for white people over the past twenty years, but psychologically even wealthy white people are in a panic, feeling like they risk destitution every day.
This is how today we find ourselves with groups like Storm Alliance, La Meute, and Soldiers of Odin rallying at the border to intimidate migrants, Atalante putting up posters calling for “Remigration”, while Faith Goldy films herself at Roxham Road saying “Canada shouldn’t be the battered women’s shelter of the world”. The racists who rally against migrants – and those large swathes of the population who don’t rally, but who insist that “there are real problems” with “letting in” so many people – are playing out the politics of their class position: beneficiaries of worldwide plunder, insecure about losing the goodies that come from being “First World”, losing sleep over the possibility that they will suffer the same conditions that have been inflicted on the rest of the world, yet unwilling to recognize the humanity and just claims of those who actually produce the wealth they enjoy.
As one comrade has put it, you don’t have to like them to understand them.