Saturday, July 29, 2017
There can be no socialist case for controls on migration
Much online comment has arisen from remarks made by the Labour Leader concerning the impact of migration on wages. I am not really interested in a debate about whether “Jeremy Corbyn is right” about this or that issue – that simply makes politics about individuals (in a way with which no constituent of St Caroline of Lucas can ever really be comfortable).
I am more interested in the question of migration and the interests of the working class, with reference to the arguments advanced by those on the left who (in some cases having supported a “leave” vote in the referendum) emphasise that “free movement of labour” is something which can advance the interests of capital (as, in the right circumstances, can almost anything in a capitalist society) as if that meant it could not be in the interests of labour.
I don’t want to get into the detail that we do not have (and have never had) “free movement of labour” nor that state imposed controls upon the movement of people invariably fail to prevent “illegal” migration and simply create a “reserve army” of undocumented workers (usually demarcated by race, nationality or ethnicity) who can be used to undercut the terms and conditions of workers with legal rights (so that all calls for legislative or administrative restrictions on free movement are simply demands for the state to further regulate membership of that “reserve army”).
What I am interested in is how the “socialist” case against free movement of labour is made by those whose understanding of the (class) interests of the working class is constrained by an implicit acceptance of the existence – and persistence – of capitalist social relations of production.
The politics of the “British Road to Socialism” underpins the case for “Lexit” – it is a politics founded upon the notion that there can be (and indeed is) a “British” working class, distinct in some way from the global proletariat (and that this “British” working class exists within the – implicitly static - context of “actually existing” capitalism).
It doesn’t take more than a few minutes of thinking about where the boundaries of such a “national” working class would be drawn (and who would be on which side of those boundaries) to realise that this is nonsense. There can no more be a (distinctively) “British” working class than there is a “white” working class. These concepts are extensions of the error of treating class as if it were essentially a category rather than a social relation, an error which is associated with politics based upon a static conception of an existing class society, as opposed to a dynamic understanding of class struggle.
The politics of those who see themselves as the representatives of a “British” working class are as limited as are those of trade unionists who see themselves as only representing their own section of the class (such as representatives of skilled workers who seek to restrict labour supply to support the market position of their members – as much against other workers as against the employers). These are the politics of those whose “class politics” are entirely about advancing the interests of a section of the working class within capitalist social relations of production, rather than transforming those social relations of production.
There can be no “working class” (or socialist) argument for restricting migration of people across the “national” boundaries of capitalist states. Indeed such national boundaries cannot have meaning from a socialist perspective.
Our interests as workers are international. Those who make the mistake of believing in “socialism in one country” inevitably slide towards prioritising the interests of a “nation” over those of a class – and the interests of a “nation” (in a capitalist society) are the interests of that segment of the global ruling class which is associated with that nation.
The task of socialists is to represent the interests of our class. Those interests do not have nationalities (nor, for that matter, genders nor ethnicities, nor any other particular characteristic – which is not to say that oppressed groups, including oppressed nationalities, do not have collective interests in opposition to oppression with which socialists have to be engaged in developing the consciousness of our class if we are ever to transcend the limits of this society).
Socialism is about uniting our class, which means uniting our class beyond all national boundaries (and identities) in opposition to exploitation and oppression. No one who defends a “British” working class is on the side of the working class and there is no socialist case for controls on migration (no matter how many workers, or self-proclaimed socialists, may insist otherwise).