Refugee Solidarity Beyond Platitudes

Editorial, December 2015

Focal point of reaction (image via Gage Skidmore)

Donald Trump’s latest inflammatory statement, that the federal government should enact a “total and complete shutdown of all Muslims entering the United States”, has drawn indignant anger from across the ruling class and its institutions. Even the conservative establishment has joined in condemnation of the right-wing demagogue, with newly minted House Speaker Paul Ryan disclaiming the idea as “not who we are as a party” and others, including presidential candidate Lindsey Graham, naming Trump a fascist. Indeed, the f-word is now being wielded across the bourgeois media as journalists ponder whether The Donald bears more than a superficial resemblance to Il Duce.1

Whether or not Trump is a fascist or proto-fascist according to a scientific socialist criterion, a question is posed: how much do his politics actually diverge from the existing U.S. establishment on the refugee crisis? The Republican Party is clearly not filled to the brim with pro-refugee sentiment, considering the 30 Republican governors making various public statements and legal maneuvers to keep refugees out of their states. The Democrats are complicit here too. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker joined his GOP colleagues in announcing that additional Syrian and Iraqi refugees weren’t welcome in the Bay State, though he backtracked a few days later, presumably upon learning his constituents aren’t as xenophobic as he thought. At the federal level, 47 House Democrats joined the Republicans in a vote to increase the already onerous requirements for acceptance into the U.S. – enough bureaucratic red tape that the program would essentially grind to a halt.

The constant fear mongering over national security from the refugee population is a red herring. The existing vetting process is the most exhaustive in the world.2 First potential refugees must apply for their status with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and, after passing their vetting protocols, be referred to the United States. They are then scrutinized by the FBI, State Department, Department of Homeland Security and the National Counterterrorism Center, with multiple rounds of background checks and interviews… as well as one last screening when they arrive in the U.S. by plane. The process takes between one and three years. At this point new arrivals are handed off to one of nine non-governmental organizations that resettles the individual or family somewhere in the country and controls the $1,000 stipend each refugee receives (meant to last three months.) They do not receive any special housing or job arrangement from the state, and in fact they are expected to pay back their stipend and plane fare!3

No reasonable person could think the U.S. is coddling refugees, yet the bourgeois-liberal establishment continually allows the Right to set the terms of debate. President Obama, defended by many as a paragon of tolerance, defends a miserly admittance policy. Leaving aside for a moment the U.S.’s intense involvement in creating the very situation millions are fleeing from, fewer than 2,000 Syrians have been brought into the country since 2011. Obama’s plan, the funding for which survived its inclusion in the recent omnibus spending bill4, provides for an additional 15,000 refugees next year then 30,000 and 45,000 in 2017 and 2018. The total limit on refugees will be increased to 100,000 per year. Compare this to Lebanon, a small neocolonial country that has already taken in 1.2 million refugees from Iraq and Syria. Germany, an imperialist power in its own right with a fraction of America’s population and economic capacity, has accepted a million asylum-seekers and counting. The progressive refugee plan is actually quite conservative.

Bourgeois politicians of every stripe are basing their refugee policy on loyalty to the capitalist nation-state and to the imperialist project. This includes Bernie Sanders, whose response to the refugee crisis and right-wing doomsday predictions was to… launch a petition5 to preserve the status quo. Not exactly socialist internationalism! Contrast this to communist policy, which starts with what will advance the confidence, position and self-organization of the world working class. This includes principled opposition to immigration controls and opposition to the imperial project as a whole.

Yes, it’s essential to organize on a day-to-day basis against the worst kinds of national chauvinism and jingoistic bigotry peddled by the likes of Trump. But marrying ourselves to liberal politicians is a dead end. Only a positive left-wing challenge can cut across the rising specter of the far right.



  1. Disappointingly but in keeping with its tradition of vapid class “analysis”, the bourgeois media tends to use more or less arbitrary definitions of fascism rather than any kind of Marxist approach like the one laid out by Leon Trotsky in Fascism: What it is & How to Fight It.
  4. Pending but expected to pass at the time of publication.

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