by Eleanor Goldfield
This article originally appeared in Swedish in the anarchist magazine Brand .
A while back, I covered the “Immigrant Caravan” tactic on my show here in the so-called United States. I’ve watched how people around me have responded to fear factory news reports with a predictable blend of fear and disgust – not for the news, sadly, but for the migrants. I morbidly chuckle to myself as I recall hearing these lines at Passover seder when I was a kid: “You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt” and “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt…” As I grew older these lines seethed with a global irony; Israel oppressing “strangers” on stolen land and an American history literally littered with the blood of the natives never treated with love, the “aliens” we now keep in cages, ripped apart from their families. Still, I also learned as I grew older that while the US fashions itself a Christian nation ( which it was never founded to be ), it’s the fire, brimstone, bigotry and hate that we choose to pull from the fairy-tale pages of that old book. And as Christmas drew nearer, the pointed irony of sending troops to the border to confront unarmed, desperate refugees screamed into an anechoic chamber padded with decades of fear-mongering, neoliberalism, right-wing extremism and modernized white nationalism.
Still, as an activist, I have hope. I don’t think it’s too late for folks here to tear down these walls and the rotten padding enveloping them. But we have quite a damn chasm to crawl out of. By comparison, Sweden hasn’t dug nearly as far down. Yet I see Swedish politicians with red, white and blue shovels proudly promoting the ideals that have plummeted us into this dark place where the only things on the upswing are fascism, extreme weather and opioid addiction. In other words, Sweden seems to be buying perhaps the most dangerous US export: American exceptionalism. Speaking as an American and a Swede, I can not be more insistent about the need to steer clear of any path marked with the footsteps of American policy. No good will come from emulating what I call with no hyperbole, the evil Empire. The classic American qualities of bastardized faith and over-inflated egos can perhaps illustrate this point more clearly.
Ask many Americans to find Sweden on a map and they’d likely end up in Asia. And that’s not really their fault. The education system in this country is so awful, there are kids that get to college who can’t read. Furthermore, even for kids who do have access to education, not a lot of importance is placed on traveling or experiencing other cultures, particularly if those cultures are significantly different from ours, i.e. anywhere East of the Berlin Wall and anywhere South of the Equator – minus Australia, New Zealand and maybe Bali. Because yoga poses on westernized resort beaches are really in right now. Growing up here, wanderlust is vastly overshadowed by staying-right-here lust, a paradigm founded on the concept of American exceptionalism. We’re taught to feel that we’re the best without ever really grasping what makes us the best. A lot like the religious fervor pushing this country towards a theocratic fascism, you just gotta have faith in that idea. Have faith in our superiority, have faith in the American dream and the rest will be sorted out by god. Sure, you don’t get paid enough to make ends meet, you don’t have healthcare, you get no vacation, the prospect of retirement is about as realistic as finding a unicorn in your backyard – but compared to other places you’ve never been, America still has to be the best. The absurdity of this lie demonstrates how powerful it is. Like so many of the lies that prop up our flimsy facade of a system, so many people believe in it. And it is from these gross and twisted fallacies that we build our jingoistic and sadistic ideas on immigration.
Against the backdrop of American exceptionalism, it seems self-evident that people would want to come to this country. But already, we’ve got it wrong. Very few immigrants want to move here because we’re exceptional. Very few want to move period. Most immigrants move because they have no other choice. As I recently noted on my coverage of the immigrant caravan (read: refugee march), a combination of climate change and decades of authoritarian freedom crusades have destroyed the livelihoods, prospects and futures of millions of Central and South Americans. This migration is forced by coups we backed, wars that we started, helped to start or lent critical support to. And that includes economic wars.
The United States is in the final stages of re-working the colossal failure of a trade deal NAFTA – opting for some clever rebranding so as to avoid the comparison. Marketing aside, the US Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) does nothing to address the corporate pit falls of NAFTA while doing everything to uphold the oppression of workers and the destruction of the environment for the sake of profit. NAFTA completely obliterated the livelihoods of more than a million Mexican campesino farmers along with an additional 1.4 million Mexican workers whose livelihoods depended on agriculture. Nearly 1 million US manufacturing jobs were lost while at the same time, NAFTA pushed wages down and income inequality up. Workers lost already fragile bargaining power and the right to unionize. Indeed – the destruction wrought by NAFTA covers practically every issue that I will be discussing in these articles. And while NAFTA is a North American trade agreement, the blueprint for this corporate brand of oppression and destruction is global. Sweden’s interest in deals like CETA, JEFTA and TTIP prove that the piper’s call of corporate trade deals that place profit over people and planet is getting louder. This din threatens to drown out Sweden’s value systems of fair wages, government-sponsored welfare, healthcare, sustainability and human rights in general.
Outside of trade, while Sweden doesn’t have the foreign policy rap sheet that we do, Sweden is not devoid of blame in the global military industrial complex. According to 2014 numbers, per capita, Sweden is the third largest arms exporter after Israel and Russia. Between 2013 and 2017, an average of 24% of Swedish weapons were sold to countries that Freedom House ranks as “partly free” or “not free.”
Thankfully, those numbers may already be changing. Earlier this year, the Swedish parliament did pass a law that institutes a “democracy criterion” for selling arms overseas. Unfortunately, this doesn’t outlaw sales to countries like Saudi Arabia, but it will make it more difficult to obtain a license for those sales. Critics have pointed out that the law leaves a lot of room for interpretation while also leaving certain weapons systems essentially untouched by the legislation. Still, it’s a step in the right direction for notching down that Top 10 list. While it may seem a non-sequitur to bring up Sweden’s arms sales in an article about immigration, the fact is that conflict and climate change are the biggest global drivers of migration. With regards to the latter, the military industrial complex is one of the world’s largest polluters. Of course, Sweden doesn’t have as large of a stake in perpetuating either war or climate change as the U.S. does – but why would you want to try? As Sweden bows to U.S. power and Russia fear propaganda, these connections and questions must be brought up – not just for the issue of immigration but how that issue is used by growing fascist interests.
Shifting money from the people to corporations and/or the military only opens the door wider for far-right groups to channel the frustrations of the people. A paper published earlier this year by five Swedish economists takes a look at the catalysts for Sweden’s far-right fervor. Put simply, austerity measures back in 2006 precipitated a growth in income inequality that was only made more drastic by the 2008 global recession. Much like we see here in the States, income inequality continued to rise during the so-called recovery. Johanna Rickne, a professor at Stockholm University and co-author of the paper pointed out that “If you are yourself doing worse and worse, relative to others, and your income is stagnating or even declining year after year compared to people with stable employment… people are prone to thinking immigrants are taking resources rather than understanding tax and spending policy.” The paper paints a picture I see every day here in the states: folks who have felt the squeeze more in recent years find solace in blaming the new “other.” It’s easy because they typically don’t interact directly with immigrants so there’s no risk of being confronted with explicit facts or of building empathy with said “other.” It’s easy whereas punching up is hard. It’s easy to put your trust in right-wing politicians who seem to have all the answers. It’s easy to have faith.
This picture isn’t finished. But in the historic gallery of missteps, there are paintings that started out much the same way and ended in genocide. Across the pond from Sweden, the U.S. has already begun filling in some of those brushstrokes. We’re ripping families apart, shoving kids in cages and abusing them physically and mentally . We’re raiding homes, stalking immigrants and activists, executing black men and women in the streets, growing our prison population, growing our military, growing the wage gap and shrinking our minds. Sure, some of this is old hat for the evil Empire – we are after all a country founded on slavery and genocide. Hitler was inspired by the U.S. institution of slavery. But now our homegrown, proudly American fascists are returning the favor: combining our foundations of white supremacy, slavery and genocide with the tenets of fascism. Last year in Charlottesville, I watched a car drive into a crowd of people, injuring dozens and killing one. I watched as fascists cheered the bloodshed, ganging up on people to produce more. I watched the police look on in silence.
It’s not my goal to sound alarmist – merely to point out the well-trodden path of insanity’s loop. Austerity measures combined with Sweden’s frankly shitty policy of shoving immigrants in ghettos without work or access to integration fuels a fascist rise. The gasoline spritz on this fire can clearly be seen in the absurd efforts to quiet Swedish culture – rather than proudly sharing it. Furthermore, Sweden’s affinity for the U.S. military and Uncle Sam’s corporate trade deals bolster not just income inequality but global refugee migration.
Ultimately, a post-capitalist world without borders and nations is what I and many I know fight for – and promote. But there are steps and stop-gaps along the way. As the immigrant caravan nears our arbitrary line in the sand, I see people looking on with fear and revulsion without realizing that they too are part of the very same system that created these migrants. We’re just at different spots on the Monopoly board game. This isn’t a matter of the inside looking out. We have more in common with those marching towards us than we do with those signing orders to stop them in their tracks. From this perspective, we have to build solidarity that does not depend on borders – but instead a shared solidarity for justice and human rights.
Swedes will have to ask themselves very difficult questions. How can we organize to protect our communities without making immigrants into scapegoats? How can we make clear to our neighbors that it’s not immigrants they hate but rather, they hate austerity. And war. And capitalism. How can we be proud of our culture without turning towards nationalism and the fear and violence that comes along with it? How can we hold onto our traditions, our culture while inviting new residents to join in and also share their cultures with us? How can we be resolute in respecting the autonomy of people to live how they like while also being resolute that any ways of life that objectify, dehumanize or otherwise oppress any group will not be tolerated?
I don’t pretend to have all the answers to these questions. And if I said I did, you should be very skeptical. These questions are ones to be answered by communities living and organizing in Sweden – which sadly, I am not doing right now. The one thing I do know is that emulating the United States is not the answer. It flies in the face of the ideas of autonomous justice, freedom and human rights. My goal here is to connect our struggles – to highlight the similarities in our problems so that we may consider solutions together. Because indeed, these are not disparate institutions we are fighting – they are cohesive capitalist systems fueled by our collective oppression.