Monday, November 30, 2009

How come nobody is allowed to talk about immigration?

How come nobody is allowed to talk about immigration? This is the question constantly asked by the right-wing press and mainstream politicians of all parties in the UK. And, yet, it seems to me, no subject is covered more by the right-wing press and mainstream media in the UK.

This is from Left Foot Forward:

Evidence of the week

The Office for National Statistics released the latest immigration figures yesterday, which showed that overall net migration had fallen by more than a third to 163,000 last year, while net migration from the A8 European Union 2004 accession states had fallen 88 per cent to just 9,000 in 2008 – a figure unearthed by Left Foot Forward. The Daily Express, surprise surprise, failed to mention the number of emigrants leaving the country – a record 427,000 – in a patently misleading headline which screamed “Immigration: 590,000 new arrivals in Britain a year”.

Full story here. For more along those lines, read The Truth About Immigration, parts 1 and 2.

21 comments:

ross said...

in my experience it's mainly the left who like to constrain any meaningful debate on immigration - leaving us with the lunacy of the unconditional 'no borders' crowd at one end (with anyone whose not for that being automatically racist) and fortress britain at the other - immigration is a prickly subject but to shy away from it (or to offer arguments which sound like a low rent CBI offering) is yet more political cowardice from the left and another reason they're an irrelevance to all but themselves

bob said...

I don't think I agree. It's true that short of the utopian "no borders" position, which not that many on the left actually actively advocate (a lot of anarchists explicitly take that position, but I've never actually heard any Trot parties articulate it), there is a lack of actual suggestions made from the left. The London Citizens argue for an amnesty, but most on the left are suspicious of them because of the heavy church involvement. (The left's doublethink about secularism is another issue, so Muslim faith leaders are welcomed with open arms, Catholics are OK so long as they stay in Latin America, and other Christians are not touched with a bargepole.) From the mainstream left, I think "cowardice" is the right word: they let the right-wing press set the agenda and don't dare talk about immigration.

I've recently read two people on the left criticise no borders. Terry Glavin said: 'The "No One Is Illegal" position strikes me as a fashionable abdication from the duty of actually proposing solutions and a weird concurrence with the far-right proposition that market forces alone should determine immigration policy. The barbaric "Just Keep Them Out" posture similarly surrenders to unreason.'

And Sivanandan, veteran Marxist head of the IRR, wrote: 'the academics, caught up in yesterday's mantras, are unable to speak truth to power; the think-tanks speak to the New Labour agenda and the activist Left is still idealistically looking for a borderless world.'

Yet neither of them are able (and nor am I) to make a positive contribution to what we should be looking for.

Myself, I think that we need to make the argument for the right of freedom of movement, and create a culture of hospitality, conviviality and solidarity here. The many school-based campaigns against deportations, as well as some estate-based ones, such as Kingsway in Glasgow, show that that is possible.

ModernityBlog said...

Isn't it something of irony that in the global world parts of the left are still constrained by the national state, and can only think, activate their politics within the constraints of a "bordered" society.

It would be far better if people accepted that we live, all of us, in a global world and have done for centuries, etc.

You could look at it in several ways:

1) societies the product of the migration of people

2) by virtue of necessity trade becomes global

3) Westerners have had no (significant) constraints on them entering other countries for hundreds of years. They would simply pack up their bags and go somewhere.

4) Even in this modern age you only need to look around the world to see where Brits have gone, Spain, the Middle East, the Far East, Africa, even Japan, mostly for work and personal gain.

Yet conversely we are supposed to be surprised when people who live in comparatively poor countries do exactly the same, as the Brits have been doing the centuries?

Move to better places to enhance and improve their lives.

Waterloo Sunset said...

Bob, I'm pretty sure most of the Trot parties have formal "no" or "open" borders policy (which, on immigration, is pretty much the same thing). The SWP definitely do. As do Workers Power and Permanent Revolution. I'm pretty sure the CPGB also do. That's off the top of my head. The only party that definitely doesn't is Respect and they aren't really a trot group as such.

I'd broadly agree with you and Mod overall.

Couple of points.

We need to start from a position that recognises the simple fact that working class areas are, and always have been, far more multiracial then middle class ones. There is something rather off about the working class being lectured on this subject by Guardianistas, from their comfy little gated communities.

I also think simplistic "refugees welcome here" sloganeering is counterproductive. In areas where it's true, it's not needed. In areas where it isn't, it does nothing to address the issue.

Most of all though (and this links into the positive contribution Bob is rightly looking for), we need to stop letting the right frame the agenda on this. That includes looking at immigration as a matter of numbers in and out. But it also includes arguments that focus on the 'economic benefits' of immigration, as Ross touches on with his "low rent CBI" offering.

Instead, we should argue that any area that is seeing the settlement of immigrants should get a proportionate increase in funding.

That would counter the current problem of resentment against immigrants coming into areas which are already stretched for resources. (Which is an absolute godsend to the BNP).

It also would allow some of those funds to be used to help new immigrants integrate smoothly into the community. (Community centres, English lessons etc.) It's absolutely my view that the vast majority of immigrants want to do this. But, currently, they aren't being given the help they should be.

ross said...

Bob - not sure I follow your post - you start off replying to mine saying you don't think you agree, but pretty much much everything you talk about subsequent to that is more or less repeating what I said in the post that you don't agree with:-

- lack of enagement with the topic by the left: check

- politcal cowardice of the left: check

- idiocy of no borders: check

- idiocy of fortress britain: check

- lack of positive contribution by the left: check

the only thing you mention which seemed to disagree with my post was the point about trot parties not articulating no or open border positions, but as waterloo points out they pretty much do so you've got trots and anarchists doing it

waterloo correctly sums up the consequences of all the above in that the right is able to frame the debate due to the vacuum elsewhere (notice a trend here!) - also makes a critical point about the matching of resources to demands placed on communities and if those resources are not offered up there's nothing racist about allowing the right of a community to organise against these demands put upon them, as a first measure it should obviously be aimed at getting the appropriate resources/funds to cope with large inwards population movements, but there's nothing racist about organising to resist those population movements if resources are not in place to deal with the burden that comes with it - the cobweb left will always recoil at such arguments as they live in a world that very few people actually live in - but I think it's all very clear now the price that has been paid for both the left's and the political mainstream's failure to engage with areas like this, it leaves the door wide open for the BNP to racialise what are essentially class issues

bob said...

WS - I agree 100%.

"Refugees welcome here" is one of those things that sounds nice, but isn't often true. It reminds me of one year when the NF did their Bermondsey march and all the middle class students were chanting "Nazi scum off our streets", when they wouldn;t live in bermondsey if you paid them.

On the economic arguments, you are right too. The benefits of migration (and they are real) accrue nationally and are only indirectly felt by most of us, but the costs (competition for jobs, crowded hospitals) are felt locally, and very directly, by the people least able to bear them.

bob said...

Ross, where I disagree, i think is:

1) the idiocy of no borders - I think it is the least bad approach

2) that it is the left who like to constrain any meaningful debate on this - yes, they can be moralistic, but the real constraining is from the other side, from the right, who set the agenda.

ross said...

1. just because something is the least bad approach it doesn't mean it's not an idiotic position in itself - you pretty much aknowledge that yourself in the post prior in relation to 'refugee's welcome here' nonsense - i accept it's not a direct parallel but the sentiments behind that are the same sentiments that are behind unconditional no borders, i.e. well meaning and utopian but head in the sand

2. you argue above that it's not the left that's constraining the debate yet a few posts above you say

they let the right-wing press set the agenda and don't dare talk about immigration.

that's constraining the debate to me! allowing the debate to be dominated by the enemy and to not even dare talk about immigration is constraining the debate

bob said...

1. I think we have to work out how to make the utopian slogans true. We have to work out hwo to make refugees welcome in our communities. Part of that would be expposing the lies, exposing the inequalities. And demanding the resources. Refugees welcome here needn't be a utopian slogan. The public support for the Ghurkas shows that people can find common cause with foreigners given the right combination of conditions, for example.

We don't have teh power to make no borders true - until we get rid of the capitalist nation state! - but in the meantime, it challenges the recieved wisdom, and that's why I like it.

2. Ok, I'd agree with "allowed the dbate to be constrained", but I don't think tehy're doing the active constraining in most instances!

Another disagreement: the trouble with "resisting those population movements" is that you can't resist the movements without resisting the people on the move. Which often means keeping them trapped in unliveable lives, or locked in detention centres, or forced into the hands of traffickers, or trying their luck in the freezing holds of planes or airless crates.

ross said...

@ bob

1. The problem is that there is nothing of substance that goes towards making those utopian slogans true by those holding them - and this is why unconditional no borders and asylum seekers welcome here type slogans/shouting in the here and now are more likely to aggravate a situation than develop it progressively - those holding those positions are living in a bubble and seem to think they can overlay what life would be like in some never to happen communist utopia on the material situations of the here and now - it's head in the sand stuff that fails to even admit the existence of reality, let alone confront it. The simple fact is that a policy of no borders under a society based on the social relations of capitalism is nonsense on stilts - and most of the argument for it broadly coat tail that put forward by the CBI and other great bastions of working class interests - so i don't really buy the argument that it challenges the received wisdom. Also exposing inequalities to a system whose foundational basis is based upon inequalities is not really going to make much of a difference - yes if we can rentaghost ourselves into a society where the root causes of those inequalities no longer existed and an abundance of resources were available on an ongoing basis and equitably distributed then no borders would be a defendable position to have - but we're never going to be in such a world

2. come on, this is just semantics now - the left's (active) refusal to even discuss such matters let alone confront the issues allows the agenda to be set by others and the overall debate is thus constrained as a result - this end result is the same as if they 'actively' constrained it in some other way - i'm interested in outcomes and ends - and it's clear what the outcome of this one is - you could even say that the left are actively passive in relation to the debate as they tend to go out their way to label anyone racist who tries to bring it to the table - it's classic trot/left behaviour to shout down as racist anything along those lines. The left had a chance to engage with this and frame the debate/agenda in a different way to how it is now, but they bottled it, couldn't deal with it, were afraid of the public, unconvinced about their ability to actually win an argument, advanced arguments that ultimately aggravates the situation. all of which makes them an active part of the problem -

your last point is part of what makes this a prickly topic (and to be fair was not part of my original post - so in terms of finding out what you disagree with in my original post is not really relevant here) but there has to be an input by all affected by such matters , and that is what's been missing over the last decade or so - and if the left are continually seen as purely looking out for the interests of immigrants it's no wonder that people will eventually start turning to organisations that purport to represent theirs, and all of sudden it's problem squared

Waterloo Sunset said...

Ross-

The simple fact is that a policy of no borders under a society based on the social relations of capitalism is nonsense on stilts - and most of the argument for it broadly coat tail that put forward by the CBI and other great bastions of working class interests

That's where we part company I think.

While I think "No Borders" is overly simplistic sloganeering to the point of being counterproductive, that doesn't mean I think it should be abandoned as a general principle.

In fact, I would argue strongly that to do so is the mirror image of the CBI argument. Both look at the issue of immigration in terms of the 'effects' of immigrants.

Whereas, actually, all the issues surrounding immigration are to do with resource allocation and are therefore class issues.

but there has to be an input by all affected by such matters , and that is what's been missing over the last decade or so - and if the left are continually seen as purely looking out for the interests of immigrants it's no wonder that people will eventually start turning to organisations that purport to represent theirs, and all of sudden it's problem squared

Absolutely. But we don't tackle that by accepting the premise that working class immigrants have different, even opposing, interests from the rest of the working class.

To do so is to buy into the same old divisive establishment multiculturalism that has neutered much of the left.

bob said...

Re Ross

1. On no borders etc. Yes, these arguments can be counterproductive if simply bandied about, and especially if they are imposed on communities under stress by people whose lives are insulated from these issues. But they remain important principles, and we need to find ways of articulating them from below, in meaningful and non-counterproductive ways. Refugees are welcome here, but give us the resources to house them and to house everyone who is already here - rather than refugees are not welcome here.

2. The left's failure. Maybe it's semantics, and I don't think there's much of a gap between us. I agree that the moralism of liberal leftists, who say that anyone who talks about immigration is racist, does constrain the debate. But the debate is also constrained from the other direction, by the right-wing framing of the agenda, and, precisely because of the ineffectiveness of the left (which we agree on), this is more of a significant factor than the moralism of the liberals.

The reason I didn't know whether or not the Trot groups have a no borders position is that immigration is not generally a big issue for them, which is one way of showing how out of kilter they are with the populace as a whole, for whom it is a major issue. In this sense, the left are not so much part of the problem as simply irrelevant to it.

So, I don't think we have a major disagreement in substance, but in emphasis.

Vijay Chakravarthy said...

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ross said...

WS:
That's where we part company I think.While I think "No Borders" is overly simplistic sloganeering to the point of being counterproductive, that doesn't mean I think it should be abandoned as a general principle.In fact, I would argue strongly that to do so is the mirror image of the CBI argument. Both look at the issue of immigration in terms of the 'effects' of immigrants.Whereas, actually, all the issues surrounding immigration are to do with resource allocation and are therefore class issues.

I don't think lots of things should be abandoned as a general principle but their relevance in the here and now as abstract utopian principles makes them both potentially and actually counterproductive in practice (let's face it the closest we're going to get to no borders in the current setup is the demise of a popular book store chain) , so they need to be seriously looked at and engaged with, which is the opposite of most of the left's approach which is to equate anything approaching doing that as racist.

I agree with you, and have previously mentioned, that these issues are down to resource allocation/distribution and therefore class issues - so they don't take the starting point as the 'effects' of immigrants but the starting point being a focus on the level and distribution of resources required in a particular area for any given time or situation (and therefore would also apply to internal population movements within a state and also all situations where there are no population movements of any kind therefore taking the starting point back to essential class issues - but as i said if an area doesn't get the level of resources required then i'm not going to argue against the right to take action to prevent that situation getting any worse - the content of that action should obviously be done in the most progressive way possible and in a way which highlights what the core issues actually are, but to deny the right of a community to take action is again to subordinate their interests to another and gives yet more ammunition to the far right

Absolutely. But we don't tackle that by accepting the premise that working class immigrants have different, even opposing, interests from the rest of the working class.To do so is to buy into the same old divisive establishment multiculturalism that has neutered much of the left.

Indeed, but as mentioned above, we also don't do it by subordinating the interests of one section of the working class to another and actively championing one part as some kind of alluring exotic breed and the other as lumpen pasty faced wasters - this is not only to buy into, but is at the essence of, the current crisis of bankrupt political multiculturalism

ross said...

Bob:

I don't think we have a major disagreement in substance, but in emphasis

yep i agree

bob said...

If an area doesn't get the level of resources required then i'm not going to argue against the right to take action to prevent that situation getting any worse.

What sort of action are you thinking of?

ross said...

well stepping back a bit the key point is about establishing (or more correctly clarifying) the general principle that people affected by 'things' have a right to be involved in responses to those 'things' - that's the general starting point, moving on from that, the part that you didn't quote expands a little on the point in that

the content of that action should obviously be done in the most progressive way possible and in a way which highlights what the core issues actually are

i.e. by first of all re-estbalishing the fundamental class nature of this particular issue which has been successfully cloaked/racialised over the last decade or so - however it's fantasy island to think that this in its own will have much effect (as i pointed out earlier, pointing out to the administrators of a system based on class exploitation that there is some class explotiation going is not really something that achieves much in itself).

the point however has been repeatedly made on this thread by all involved that the issue is a question of resource distribution (including that of the value of labour power) and therefore this should be at the centre, and the driver, of any meaningful action - however to the extent that those approaches fail to re-establish an acceptable distribution of resources to match the demands placed upon, and by, a community I would support any organised action by a community to publicise the chronic under resourcing of that area, the resultant impacts of it (healthcare, education, housing, containment of anti-social crime by police/council to certain areas, downwards pressures on wages etc..) and appealing to those who are both looking to settle in that area (or transient elements within it) and current inhabitants to consider the situation and either to become actively enagaged in ongoing campaigns to secure an appropriate level of resources if they do move into the area or consider alternative options in other areas where resource constraints may not be as bad as the current area (i.e. 'your welcome here if you stand with us and fight alongside us for better living conditions for the community as a whole')

I admit this is all a bit wooly, abstract and hypothetical, however there is something attractive about this kind of thing aimed at potential incomers prior to or during their arrival into the area which immediately establishes the problem as a class one and one which can be better confronted by old and new inhabitants alike focussing on the real essence of the issues and establishing relations across ethnic/racial/religious lines from the get go making it harder for the right to exploit these potential cleavages further down the line. It also reinforces the point that these fundamental issues exist within capitalist social relations, a priori to immigration and while immigration can shine a greater light on, and exasperate, them - it's not the fundamental cause of their existence. the problem that this kind of approach would run up against is the diametrically opposed 'values' of Political Multiculturalism which actively prevents these kind of associations & solidarities being made within communities. with the gradual realisation of the bankruptcy of this particular policy becoming more and more clearer as time goes on however this may not be as big a barrier as it once was - on the other side of this i'd also say initiatives by local ethnic/cultural/religious communities to open up more to the wider community (public open days at mosques etc., community fund raising, etc..), would also go some way to rebuilding some of the bridges that have been broken by political multiculturalism - some fairly decent stuff along these lines have been proposed by the quillam foundation over the last few months

Jogo said...

The immigration reader-comment thread has been extremely intelligent and interesting (to me, whose country isn't having to deal with the same things yours is). I don't think there's anything I have to say on the subject that wasn't raised by contributors (convivially and without Will leaping in to call people "cunts") on the thread.

I also enjoy Bob, the gracious host, stepping in and making the thing a real discussion. However, I cannot go along with two of Bob's core (core to his very identity, if I may be so bold) ideas, which (assuming I understand them) I consider utopian and completely irrational:

* No Borders. This idea (or more accurately, mantra) breaks down as soon as you utter its companion-mantra -- Immigrants Welcome. That is an incomplete thought. To complete it, you need to say: Immigrants welcome ... to some degree. Why? Because you cannot welcome an infinite number of immigrants. What if, say, 4 million people from Albania, Afghanistan and Africa want to enter Britain? Well, they can't. They simply can't. The government won't let them in; Ross, Waterloo Sunset and Bob won't let them in; and neither will Nick Griffin. The allowed number of immigrants (whatever it might be, in whatever time and circumstances) is FINITE. And therefore "No Borders" (or the practical application of it) is nonsense. It might fit in with somebody's dreams, but it's political and sociological nonsense, having nothing to do with human social and cultural reality from the beginning of time.

* Envisioning an end to the Capitalist State. You can't be serious. This will never happen. The idea is absurd (I mean absurd to see it as you do, as a fairy-castle in the mist, waiting for the fog to lift so we may all enter into it, and live as fill-in-the-blank intended us to live). I disagree with your "idea" that bad, wrong, undesirable, deplorable or simply less-than-perfect social relations are nothing other than reflections of economic relations, and are therefore entirely due to the Capitalist State, and will wither away in whatever you call your Desired State. My father held such ideas -- everything wrong was due to "the Capitalist System," never to human nature. I actually now think, remembering long-past conversations, that my father did not believe in anything we could term "human nature." I think he thought there was no such thing. I wonder if Bob thinks that, too.

Waterloo Sunset said...

I'm obviously not Bob. (I don't even play him on television). But to answer your points from my perspective.

1. I reject your premise here for several reasons.

Firstly, I think talking about an "infinite" number of immigrants is hypothetical to the point of being unhelpful for this kind of discussion. There is no real basis to suggest that the largescale numbers you're talking about are a real possibility in normal circumstances. The only case I could see it being probable is with a people facing immediate genocide. In that case, surely you wouldn't argue that those people should be turned back?

More importantly, I don't see this kind of numbercrunching as the real issue. Even if we take the four million you mention as a given, I still reject the idea that would be what would lead to the widespread unresourcing of working class areas. Which is economic/political policy. Immigration is only related to it (very) indirectly.

2. To tackle these points slightly back to front.

On human nature, I'm pretty undecided on the whole question of whether human nature exists in the way you suggest. Although, I notice that you don't outline what traits you see human nature consisting of. Can you clarify please?

Largely though, I think it's an interesting philosophical topic to chew over, but not much more. My rejection of the current system is based first and foremost on what it is on its own merits, not on a belief in the basic goodness of humanity. In fact, if you take a generally negative view of human nature, there's arguably more reasons to reject captalism. How can you trust a system that places power and wealth in the hands of the few?

On the end of the capitalist state, I would point out that revolutions, by their nature, tend to be unexpected. So, currently, I think those of us who identify as anticapitalist (in a broad sense) are in the position of an atheist peasant in the middle ages. We're arguing against something that is generally accepted as 'how it is', not always with much thought behind that process.

That said, I don't see us as in a pre insurrectionary situation currently, let along a pre-revolutionary one.

We're in a situation with a demoralised, defranchised and repeatedly defeated working class. The class war has been being fought, but the other side has been throwing all the punches. To quote the right wing intellectual Maurice Cowling:

If there is a class war – and there is – it is important that it should be handled with subtlety and skill. ... it is not freedom that Conservatives want; what they want is the sort of freedom that will maintain existing inequalities or restore lost ones

That's both a statement of intent and a description of what we've been seeing, certainly since the end of the 70's.

So, while the overthrow of the current system is my abstract future goal, it's not where we're at at the moment. At the moment, class politics is a defensive position. It's a matter of trying to stave off further attacks and hopefully claw back some of what we've lost. And I'd argue that the only label that currently matters is pro or anti working class.

Particuarly considering the flaws currently showing in the capitalist structure.

Rosa Luxemburg's stark choice of "socialism or barbarism" has never been more relevant. And the latter is currently winning.

ross said...

one example of the kind of thing I was talking about above can be seen in the council election last night in loughton in epping forest, where a residents association beat Labour and the BNP to take the seat from the BNP

bob said...

Thanks for contributions, and apologies for slow reply - have been incredibly busy lately.

Jogo, good questions. And Ross, an excellent answer to my questions. I agree with most of what Ross and WS write here.

On capitalism and human nature issue. There was once a time when I absolutely believed there is no such thing as human nature, that humans are defined more by their limitless potential. Over the years, I have become more and more of a humanist. I am struck again and again by the human capacity for goodness, in the most impossible of circumstances. And also by the human capacity for evil.

I don't know if I ever "believed in" revolution, even in most Marxist periods; having received the beginnings of political education at the time of the Miners' Strike, the defeat of the revolutionary movement and of the class struggle was a given for me. At best, I saw revolution as something that might come at the end of a very long process, as a distant horizon towards which today' actions might strain. Hence politics, for me, has always been about defending small gains, carving out small spaces.

Even as this flimsy form of revolutionary faith has become frayed over the last decade or so, I still strongly believe that we need capitalism to end. This week, I read about the huge amount of its rain forest Malaysia has destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations, stealing lands from indigenous Penan peoples, so that Western consumers can eat more fulsome margarine. Every week, I read about some way in which our planet is heading to hell, about the misery in which most people live their lives. I know enough about history to know that this misery and destruction are caused by modern capitalism, and not by human nature.