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Migration, a Revolution in the Making

Friday 9 June 2023, by Gustave Massiah

We are experiencing a turning point in the long history of migration. The history of migration merges with the history of mankind; it is part of the long, shaping history of the human race. This history began in Africa with the migrations of Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens. Migrants are not intruders; they are an integral part of the history of every society. Migration has shaped the imagination of our world: nomadism, settling with the mastery of agriculture, exile, colonization, diasporas, rural exodus, to name but a few. Migration, along with industrialization and urbanization, is a strategic issue in the settlement of the planet. The debate on the demographic question has marked the last fifty years. Awareness of ecological limits has led to an explosion in the concept of development and the debate on demography.

In the history of capitalism, the deep scars of slavery and colonization remain. With capitalist globalization in its neoliberal phase, we can define three important forms of migration. Economic migration, marked by differences in conditions, characterized, to put it simply, by imperialism and neo-colonialism. As Alfred Sauvy put it so well in 1950, "if the wealth is in the North and the people are in the South, the people will go where the wealth is, and there’s nothing you can do to stop them". Political migration is the result of war and conflict, and takes the form of displacement and refugees. Environmental migrations are beginning, and will upset the balance of the world’s population.

When it comes to migration, the changes to come are significant. The imagination of migration still carries the contradiction between nomadic and sedentary populations that has accompanied human history since the invention of agriculture in Mesopotamia. In practically all countries, farming populations have gone from representing the majority of the population to around 5% of the total. In addition to creating tensions and exacerbating contradictions, this development is going to revolutionize the situation and outlook of migrants. The reduction in the farming population and the challenge to large-scale, extensive agricultural estates by peasant farming will change the perception of the relationship between sedentary and nomadic people.

The same applies to the notion of borders. In the long history of migration, an important change occurred between the 17th and 18th centuries, with the transition from the Empire-State to the Nation-State. Nation-states have not always existed, nor are they eternal. National identity is a recent invention. As Edouard Glissant and Patrick Chamoiseau so aptly put it, every individual has multiple identities, and it is reductive and false to try to reduce them to a single identity, that of national identity. Freedom of movement and citizenship of domicile are emerging rights that will be strengthened in the future. In many ways, migrants are already players in the transformation of societies and the world. In financial terms alone, the flows of migrants and diasporas to their countries of origin represented 630 billion dollars in 2021, while public "aid" reached a ceiling of 179 billion dollars.

The period is marked by a succession of crises. The financial crisis that began with the subprime crisis in 2008 marked the beginning of neoliberalism’s exhaustion. Austerity policies, combining austerity and authoritarianism, have undermined freedoms without renewing the economic model. Ideologies of identity and security are responding to the emergence of social movements that are the bearers of new radicalisms: feminism, anti-racism and revolts against discrimination, indigenous peoples, migrants and diasporas. Awareness of the ecological crisis is growing, combined with the pandemic crisis. Kyle Harper, in his book The Fall of the Roman Empire, points out that it was facilitated by the pandemic crisis, with the rabies epidemic, and by the climate, with a glacial episode. It’s a combination that accompanies civilizational crises. The crisis is accompanied by a geopolitical crisis, calling into question multipolarity and reviving military posturing.

The demographics are under discussion. Two Canadian demographers, Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson, in their book, La Planète vide, le choc de la décroissance démographique mondiale (The Empty Planet, the shock of global demographic decline), call into question United Nations forecasts that the world’s population would rise from 7 to 11 billion by the end of the century, before stabilizing. They estimate that the peak will be 9 billion between 2040 and 2060. And the population will be shrinking in around thirty countries by 2050, compared with around twenty today, with significant ageing. Fertility rates in many countries are already at or below replacement level. The emancipation of women explains why the reproduction rate has stabilized at 1.7 children per woman. The perception of migration could change. The countries that would fare best would be those, like Canada, where 20% of the population was born outside the country, that are culturally accepting of both diversity and migrants.

he battle for cultural hegemony accompanies the ideological crisis. It violently opposes two conceptions of the world: identitarianism and securitarianism on the one hand, equality and solidarity on the other. The battle is over freedoms, with individualism and libertarianism on one side, and the link between individual and collective freedoms on the other. Far-right ideas have not been so present and strong since the Second World War. In their ideological battle, they focus on the issue of migration. It’s a media instrumentalization. The battle for cultural hegemony is first and foremost about equality. Migration is instrumentalized, but it still shares society just as much. There are as many calls for hatred as there are demonstrations of solidarity. For the past four years, annual surveys have shown that 60% of those polled are in favor of residency-based citizenship and the participation of foreign residents in local elections. And when asked about their concerns, the French put purchasing power and ecology at the top of the list, with Islam in tenth place and immigration in thirteenth.

International law defines the principles that should guide migration policies. It puts forward six basic principles: dignity; the rights of migrants; the fight against racism; the redefinition of development; freedom of movement; and respect for international law. Dignity is the foundation of all our proposals. Migrants must be recognized as actors in the transformation of the societies they come from and the societies they go to, and as actors in the transformation of the world. Respect for the rights of migrants is part of respect for the rights of all. The rights of foreigners must be based on equal rights, not on public order. It begins with the regularization of undocumented migrants. It emphasizes the right to live and work in one’s own country, as well as the right to free movement and settlement. He proposes recognizing citizenship by residence. The right to live and work in one’s own country is inseparable from freedom of movement and settlement. The desire to stay is inseparable from the right to leave.

The issue of migration reminds us that decolonization is not yet over. The first phase of decolonization, that of the independence of states, is almost complete; we can see its limits. The second phase, that of the liberation of nations and peoples, is just beginning. Movements such as the workers’ and trade union movement, the peasant movement, the feminist movement, the ecologist movement, the first peoples’ movement, the anti-racist and anti-discriminatory movement, the anti-precarity movement and the movement for migrants’ rights are all bringing new radicalism to the fore. The strategies of these movements are evolving rapidly. For example, the peasant movement has succeeded in promoting peasant agriculture as more advanced than agro-industry and more in line with ecological imperatives, rejecting GMOs and proposing food sovereignty. What’s urgently needed is to define a project of overcoming and emancipation, corresponding to a strategic alliance of these movements. And we need to invent new forms of politics to renew our approach to democracy. Migrants are the salt of the earth.

20 March 2023