September 4th, 2009


The left wing argument against immigration

Reading the page of a Facebook friend the other day I discovered a link to an op-ed piece about the Dutch Socialist Party, led by Agnes Kant. In the article -- entitled Dutch advance socialist case against immigration -- we learn that this party is the fastest-growing in Holland, and may replace the Dutch Labour Party as the main alternative to the Christian Democrats. The secret of their success seems to be that they're anti-EU and anti-immigration; in other words, that they're picking up votes from the right as well as the left (they also support welfare, nationalisation and progressive taxation, and attack capitalism's "culture of greed").

Kant's party argues that workers shouldn't have to "flow freely" around the world in search of work, and that immigration is a capitalist ploy to drive down wages and destroy indigenous working-class solidarity. They see the EU's desire to let both capital and labour flow around easily serving the interests of fat cat industrialists "who for obvious reasons welcome the influx of large numbers of people from low-wage economies onto their labour market". Voila, a left-wing rationale for the (traditionally right-wing) dislike of immigration!

My left-wing friends on Facebook were appalled at this development. "Sooooo bloody depressing," said one. "When the Dutch socialists are against it, we're sunk mate." Another responded: "I'm appalled that a party that purports to be socialist can maintain that being opposed to immigration is anti-capitalist. Socialists should advocate internationalism and laws to protect all workers." I was also appalled, yet somewhat intrigued; Holland (I'll be there next week; I play the Kikker Theater in Utrecht on September 11th) seems to be a sort of political gene-splicing laboratory where radical-leftist-libertarian politics get mingled, magically, with right-wing populism. Remember openly gay politician Pim Fortuyn and his argument that immigration should be stopped because muslims didn't understand Holland's traditional liberalism on social issues like homosexuality? Tolerant, left-sounding arguments powered his rightward rise, too.

There's no doubt that, on a purely pragmatic level, being anti-immigration gets you places. At the European elections in June, voters steered Europe to the right by rewarding anti-immigration candidates. But how socialist can an anti-immigration stance claim to be? In her book Immigration and politics in the new Europe, Gailya Lahav found that while only 14% of socialists agreed with the statement "immigration should be decreased", 83% of members of radical right parties agreed. And the results of this 2002 survey in Norway show that you're more likely to have a positive view of immigrants if you're:

a) Scandinavian (rather than from a country further south)
b) young
c) have a high level of education
d) have actual personal contact with immigrants
e) live in a city rather than the country, and
f) the centre of a city rather than the suburbs
g) have a left-wing political affiliation

Chris Dillow, in a Stumbling and Mumbling blog article entitled Immigration and the left, lists a cogent set of reasons why the left continues to be pro-immigration. And, back on Facebook, Eric Ross puts the traditional leftist view strongly: "Since the days of the Paris Commune, real socialism has been internationalist and has regarded nationalism as a divisive force, not the diverse attributes and points of origin of the workforce. The Dutch socialist party should seek to restrict the free flow of capital, not of labor; and it should advocate policies that prevent the exploitation of all workers."

Meanwhile, if we need confirmation that the trad right is as anti-immigration as the trad left is pro, we need only turn to the writings of John Fonte, of right-wing American think-tank The Hudson Institute. Fonte coined the term Transnational Progressivism to sum up everything he considers rotten, "non liberal-democratic" and "post-Western". He summed it up for American Diplomacy thus:

* Transnational progressivists put groups (especially ethnic groups) over individuals.
* They pit privileged indigenous oppressor groups against marginalized victim groups comprised of immigrants.
* Their idea of fairness is that ethnic victim groups get proportionally represented.
* The mountain comes to Mohammed; "the values of all dominant institutions [must] be changed to reflect the perspectives of the victim groups."
* Transnational progressivists favour diversity over assimilation; it's okay to stay different.
* TPs prefer power-sharing among ethnic groups (some of whom are non-citizens) to the majority rule of democracy.
* TPs work to deconstruct national narratives, like "Britishness". They define America as "the convergence of three civilizations -- Amerindian, West African, and European."
* TPs believe in postnational citizenship and elitist transnational institutions (the EU, the UN, and so on). They are "postdemocrats".

Now I identify fairly readily with Fonte's cautionary stereotype here; I am his enemy, the unrepentant Transnational Progressivist. That's natural enough; Fonte is a right-winger who defends anti-immigration views in the National Review; American Diplomacy calls him "markedly conservative". But I'm also -- and for almost all the same reasons -- the enemy of the Dutch Socialist Party. And that's weird.