The problem with immigration is driven by global inequality, desperation, neoliberal desire for cheap labour and not by your deluded sense of international solidarity.
Most people that subscribe to some leftist world vision in the West will gladly stand in support with immigrants. This as if it were an act of international leftist solidarity, perfectly unaware that the freedom of movement is a key tenant of neoliberalism. It’s just one sphere of a complex political superstructure where the average leftist is incapable of making a distinction between liberal capitalism and a personal “Marxist” orientated sense of justice. This leftist solidarity which is expressly based on respect for each living individual irrespective of race, religion, sexuality etc is worn as a badge of honour and ticks every box by which we can assure ourselves of being worthy individuals in these days of heightened political correctness (political correctness that neoliberals overwhelmingly concur with). It is a position that is admiral on a human level: after all it is natural that in a world dominated and skewed in favour of the West and to the detriment of large parts of the global south, people are compelled to come in their droves to those islands of wealth that comprise the Western hemisphere.
That immigration flows continue to surge is also a logical consequence of our globalised mediascapes: our mediascapes make clear to everyone in every corner of the globe the massive inequalities not only in terms of wages, standards of living, but also in terms of opportunity that are raging across our planet. Any human of sound mind deprived of an ability to improve their lot in the country of their birth will be beckoned by such images.
What is important however for those on the left is that they don’t become mere neoliberal conformists and support a system that to all intents and purposes only perpetuates social stratification and undermines the wellbeing of all those minorities they so adamantly profess to support. The immigration issue is a highly complex one, one which Neoliberal romanticising of the theme does well to obscure, hence promulgation of a system that induces intense social strains rests precisely on those who claim to oppose it.
The first step for the leftist therefore is to understand that it is indeed neoliberalism that is driving immigration. This should be easy, after all an abundance of workers from overseas has been met with a reduction in benefits, wage stagnation and the zero hour contract. Since the eighties these trends have been met with a simultaneous shift in corporate governance that has been ubiquitously concerned with shareholder value. Perhaps the clearest indication of the neoliberal drive behind immigration is embodied by EU laws concerning posted workers. In this scenario a worker say from Romania (a low wage country) could be sent via a company or on behalf of a contractor to a high wage country such as Finland or Sweden without the local company having to meet prevailing collective agreements in terms of wages or benefits with regards to that Romanian employee.
The trends are clear corporations and the capitalist classes have clearly used immigration by which to weaken labour and empower themselves. The unions have lost strength to the point of being completely ineffective. It is a process that is clear to understand: after all why should corporations who seek only to maximise shareholder value voluntarily increase benefits, wages, workers’ rights etc when they know they can employ a Bulgarian or a Latvian citizen who is happy to accept lesser terms? It’s the same dynamic that has weakened the position of the unions and with weaker unions we risk being sucked into a cycle of perpetuating inequalities, inequalities clearly reflected in our contemporary world.
The left which by and large have been massified have to deconstruct the market orientated narrative and understand that immigration is not merely some mythical categorical imperative that cannot be challenged under any circumstance: it is imperative that immigration must be beneficial for everyone. That includes the migrant. The idea that uncontrolled migration is a good idea during a period of austerity for instance is highly irresponsible. There are social realities if not outright social pathologies that need to be considered. Those on the left whose ideology is informed by a historical understanding of materialism should perhaps more than anyone else realise that in the modern world employment and wages are resources, they are equitable with material and that therefore enhanced immigration during a period of austerity means less resources for more people, meaning intensified social strain. Social strain equals anomie and the ripening of conditions for scapegoating. Is it any wonder then that the right is on the move? The foreign other becomes a clear target where there is increased competition for resources. When society is unbalanced it is wise not to increase the strain, especially where the consequence is detrimental to one’s own position and all those involved.
These strains are being communicated, we even lament these realities, but we seek to avoid their true causes because they challenge our core notions and values. The lefts inability to distinguish the neoliberal nature of immigration practically assures that the right will rise, because they simply dismiss the information being presented to them from the working class as racist. However, when it suits them the very same people will quickly point at the detrimental effects austerity is having on communities up and down the country. However, this ideological basis that all immigration is some form of international solidarity and a sign of openness is so rigid that they are unable to compute the contradictions, even the dangers in their positions.
When the average socialist talks about the benefits of immigration what do they have in mind? In general, it is a base mirroring of neoliberal doctrine, that people are individual actors and it is rational for immigrants to come and earn more money for themselves; secondly it is also good for the country. Certainly immigrants help maintain the country, yet at the same time they are helping maintain a system, they provide cheap labour and bring extra tax. However, it’s a question about ideology, then what the immigrant does is actually prolong an ideological system that otherwise would have already fallen to its inability to create any growth at all.
It’s strange that the humanist left generally focus on what are neoliberal economic arguments disguised as solidarity and sympathy. There never seems to be an enquiry into the human, into the spirit. They care little that migration splits up families, that the migrant might not wish to leave home in order to help others survive. Then what immigration is really about is global inequalities: people are forced to move because there is simply no wealth distribution. The biggest problem with immigration is that it is driven by global inequality, its push and pull factors therefore are the very opposite of international solidarity.
That this immigration is bad for the countries and people they leave behind is also not considered. Look at migration alone in the EU following the Euro crisis, when all numbers of workers, including a nation’s intellectuals leave, this affects development in their home countries, leading to a hollowing out of the nation and depriving it of a work force. As the academics and intellectuals leave there is a further knock-on effect, and this also leads to a greater tax burden on those remaining, not to mention wage stagnation again weakening workers bargaining rights. These factors then compound the problems generating a slowdown in future growth.
It can be interesting and adventurous to go away and gain experience of new cultures, to a degree especially when this is a choice not a necessity. But there is a difference between those who have the privilege, knowing at any moment they can return to a stable, wealthy nation, while others are limited, by a need to repatriate money to feed their loved ones, to have no real return to their families to have no initial footing in the nation they must make their new home, but beyond the realisation of the true economic drivers behind mass immigration the left also must consider the cultural aspects and how there are contradictions relating to identity politics.
Since the western “Lefty” has a profound misconception of immigration, this impinges on his ability to understand the true nature thereof. The Western lefty also has the unusual ability to ceaselessly decry all that’s wrong with Western society, nonetheless still considers the Western state he lives in to be morally superior to all other corners of the globe. Therefore his vision of immigration does not need to question the complexity of how to integrate successfully an adherent of Sharia law born in some valley of the Hindukush, with the average British or French students fixation on gender issues, gay rights and women’s rights. Then the immigrant is here “primarily to benefit from the wonders of Western culture”. More importantly the Westerner cannot conceive that the Afghan villagers core beliefs have been formed over his lifetime and impart knowledge and the social, religious contexts into which that individual was born. To deprive him of this intra-psychic superstructure is to annihilate his identity, which forces us to examine our current vision of what identity politics really entails. There is an inevitable juxtaposition, a clash of first principals. The Afghan comfortable in his skin will seek to maintain his culture then it is essential for him to navigate his world and vice versa. This is why integration at times is fraught with difficulties than the cultural shock experienced by some can cause significant disorientation leading an individual in the worst case scenario into non adaptive social behaviours, After all those who are culturally of a non Judeo Christian heritage are initially already outside our cultural sphere. Social strains therefore may increase risk factors.
This is not meant as an attack on immigration. It is rather a critique of those who always maintain a system they supposedly despise. To suggest naivety and a refusal to acknowledge certain key issues on the topic means that specific challenges will never be addressed, hence they will be left to fester. Neglecting the issues could have even graver complications for those of a left persuasion.