People of color outside at a rally one woman in front waving a red, blue and yellow striped flag

The Problem of the Borderline

In The Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois wrote: "The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line." Paraphrasing Du Bois, we propose that the problem of the twentieth-first century is the problem of the borderline -- above all, the borderline between the global North and the global South. As we write this, the right wing in the United States are in a frenzy of xenophobia, whipping up fear and hatred against a caravan of Honduran migrants crossing Mexico and heading toward the US border, just as their European counterparts have against migrants from Syria and Afghanistan, Kosovo and Albania, etc.

Why has the border come to loom so large in the reactionary mind? Economist Branko Milanovic gives us a hint: In the nineteenth century, the age of Karl Marx, "only 20 percent of global inequality was due to difference among countries. Most of global inequality (80 percent) resulted from differences within countries.... It was class that mattered.... [B]y the mid-twentieth century, 80 percent of global inequality depended on where one was born (or lived, in the case of migration), and only 20 percent on one's social class." What made inequality among countries grow far larger than (also large and growing) inequality within countries? Imperialism.

Many have already commented upon the fact that the largest numbers of migrants originate in countries ruined by wars in recent years -- whether they are invasions by the United States and its allies (Afghanistan) or covert wars fomented by their money, weapons, and propaganda (Syria) -- or subjected to coups and other forms of regime change (Honduras). The cumulative result of centuries of capitalist development that has underdeveloped colonized countries, however, has not received enough attention.

How Capitalist Imperialism Has Underdeveloped the Global South

Why have former colonies lagged behind in development? Under colonialism, they were forcibly reduced to being suppliers of raw materials for their colonizers' industrial development. And the power elites of the United States and their allies have conspired to keep them in a state of economic dependency even after they achieved political independence. Whenever progressive leaders and movements arose in the South aiming to develop their nations, educate people, invest in infrastructure, make agriculture productive, industrialize the economy, substitute domestically produced goods and services for expensive imports from the North, including in the sphere of knowledge and technology, they were met with unremitting hostility from the Northern power elites. Remember what happened to Mossadegh of Iran, Arbenz of Guatemala, Lumumba of Congo, Allende of Chile, Sankara of Burkina Faso, to name just a few? If the nations of the South used more of their raw materials at home, instead of desperately competing with one another in the world market to sell them cheaply to their former masters, and produced not only their own consumer goods and services but industrial ones, too, who would buy leftovers that multinational corporations could not sell in the North?

That unremitting hostility to any nation seeking autonomous development has never disappeared in the White House, whether occupied by a Democrat or a Republican. As Margaret Kimberly of the Black Agenda Report insists, "There can be no plan for reviving the peace movement that doesn't include a reckoning of responsibility for the disasters that Obama and Clinton brought to the world." She goes on to note "the supreme and awful irony": "America's first black president is responsible for slavery taking place in a once prosperous African country" -- Libya.

Venezuela Under Siege

We agree with Ms. Kimberly on the necessity of full reckoning of responsibility, not sparing liberal politicians supported by some of our friends. What else is necessary to rebuild a movement of solidarity with people struggling against capitalism and imperialism? Among the habits we must cultivate is constancy. Take Venezuela, for instance. When the Bolivarian movement first captured the world's attention, under the charismatic leadership of Hugo Chavez, numerous leftists from the North visited the country, collaborated with activists there, and wrote about the exciting new development: re-nationalization of the oil industry, attempts at land reform for peasant agriculture and food sovereignty, grassroots organizing through communes, etc. Since Chavez's death, and the sharp decline in oil prices that plunged the country into a spiral of inflation and shortages, however, much fewer leftists have done the same. But Venezuela needs solidarity from us more than ever. Seeing an opportunity in Venezuela's economic difficulty, the US government has tightened the screws of sanctions to aggravate it while plotting regime change with the opposition. To learn about "Venezuela Under Siege," we invite you to meet historian Steve Ellner at CWA Local 4502, 620 E. Broad St., Columbus 43215, December 3, 2018, 7 pm (email for more information).

Yoshie Furuhashi is a writer, editor, and translator (@yoshiefuruhashi) as well as activist. Mark D. Stansbery ( is a trade unionist (CWA Local 4502) and community organizer (the Community Organizing Center, 614-252-9255) as well as writer. They regularly contribute to The Free Press.


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