“Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.”
Robert Frost, Mending Wall 

Are borders natural phenomena? We argue frequently that the Palestinians deserve their land, taken from them with the backing of the international community, and we support their struggle against the Zionists. We have championed many nations over the years which have fought against colonial powers to achieve independence. But borders are divisive and unnatural. They are integral to the success of capitalism and many exist as a direct result of colonialism. For example, the Berlin Conference (1884-5) carved up the African continent and set arbitrary boundaries to divide countries, often separating groups of people with shared languages, traditions and cultures. Borders encourage exclusivity and emphasise differences rather than our common humanity. And borders favour capitalism, and capitalism of course favours the rich over the poor, benefiting in particular the 2,781 billionaires who exist around the globe. 

Capitalism allows the elite to transcend borders economically. All around the world executives representing corporate power fly freely almost everywhere, crossing border after border in the pursuit of profit. And most borders are open if you are part of the military. In 2023, the US had 750 military bases in 80 countries. The United Kingdom has about 145 military installations in various parts of the world. 

National boundaries are for an elite who create hardened borders to discriminate against the poor. They control and restrict the access of the poor to resources all over the globe, thereby ensuring that they are in a state of inequality and dependency. Capitalism has created an unsustainable way of life on our planet. It poisons the atmosphere, exploits the poor for their labour and trashes countries in the Global South in the never ending pursuit of profit, workforces and natural resources. Capitalism has led directly to climate change and untold suffering, whether because we have recklessly allowed the continued use of fossil fuels or because we have tampered in parts of the world where we have no business and have created instability, encouraged rivalry and enmity and promoted war and conflict. 

Rutner Bregman, in his optimistic book about the innate goodness of the human race, is one of the writers who argue that borders came into existence when hunter gatherers began to become settled, to grow crops and form more distinct communities. Was this a turning point that led thousands of years later to nationalism? Human beings began to feel possessive and protective about the stretches of land where they had settled and started to ward off intruders, as they saw them as competitors. The process of enclosure later involved landowners closing off or fencing common land so as to graze sheep and develop more intensive methods of agriculture. 

Some authorities date the origins of nationalism centuries ago. Many writers believe nationalism began in the nineteenth century and claim it was established as a result of industrialisation and mass communication. There is a range of different explanations as to what produced nationalism. There are claims that nationalism as we know it today began in France with the French Revolution. From then on nationalism spread, and there was more and more emphasis on individual nations with common cultures, languages and historical experiences.  

One of the alleged advantages of nationalism is the building of a community with clear laws and infrastructure. People feel loyalty and a sense of belonging. It may go hand in hand with patriotism where the country stands as one and people believe they have a distinct bond with fellow citizens. This is apparent when a country is involved in competitive sport or when it feels it is under attack.

Nationalism though can soon lead to a situation where large numbers of the population wish to keep other people out of their country and even persecute those with different ideas which do not fit into their concept of culture. We forget our common humanity and are more easily led into wars by those who thrive on warfare. Prejudice, racism and even hatred for other nations develop, as increasingly we look inward. This can lead to an alarmingly belligerent jingoism, “a naked emotion encouraged by the elite to support wars which often have an economic purpose”. And politicians exploit nationalist feelings to turn us against newcomers, minorities and in particular against refugees.There are plenty of examples of UK politicians encouraging the far right, notable recently of course being the inflammatory comments of former Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, such as her claim that the south coast is being ‘invaded’. And of course with a media that fails to challenge their rhetoric and a right-wing Labour Party led by Sir Keir Starmer standing fully in support of government controls, there is an increasingly alarming sense of the spread of prejudice and hostility towards refugees and demands that border controls be made even tighter. 

Capitalism has maintained its hegemony and dominates the world. The greed for natural resources, the legacy of colonialism, the continued existence of neo-colonialism, the destructive plundering of the planet, the prioritising of profit, the lifestyles of a small minority, the maintaining of gross inequality, the promotion of the arms trade and the resultant wars all arise from capitalist values and activity. This has created instability, climate catastrophes, suffering, persecution, deprivation, starvation and torture, which have led to millions of displaced people fleeing their homes to seek a more stable and safer life elsewhere. Many undertake perilous journeys, showing fortitude and resourcefulness in the face of unimaginable risks. And we, in the west, so often vilify them, blame them, tighten our borders and try to implement cruel and absurd plans to dispatch them elsewhere. 

I believe we should move increasingly towards rejecting the concepts of citizenship and nations and work towards establishing internationalism. I cannot envisage this being achieved in my lifetime and to hope for it may be unrealistic and overly idealistic. But borders are a basic feature of capitalism and are divisive. Surely we should be part of a broader community than the nation or the state? It seems logical that oppressed human beings the world over should  pursue a global socialist struggle against the status quo together. How we could set about this is not at all clear, but we can take inspiration from some of the organisations that operate across borders in the fight for justice. I think internationalism is integral to socialism, and that is essential if we are to build economic and political global cooperation, understanding and peace, to break down all kinds of boundaries and to aim for a world without borders.

“The forces of internationalism, humanism and solidarity will have to be victorious, or soon there will be nothing left of the human race.” Andre Vitchek (1963-2020)


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