Marxism And Immigration Controls

Brutal candour has been a feature of Red Action analysis from the very outset. Subject matter apart, it is usually the no prisoner conclusions that cause so many on the left to recoil. Of late, a number of organisations have opened up public discussions on where the fault line in Marxist thinking lies. ‘There is a break somewhere and I am not clear where. All of us would say - Marx, Engels, Lenin.Then what?’

As Red Action instigated a search for ‘the break’ over a decade ago, when the entire left united in denying there was a problem, any thawing in dogma is welcome.

That is not to say that qualifications with regard to the efforts of this batch of pioneers is unwarranted. For as is openly stated the latest ‘search’ is to be conducted within firmly proscribed boundaries. Thereby insuring that the investigation will not reach politically unpalatable conclusions. A conclusion that undermined their own reason for being would never do.

Unburdened by such ideological baggage, and with absolutely no concern for the maintaining of reputations, the Red Action approach was entirely objective. After much discussion, much of it conducted in public, it concluded the decisive theoretical ‘break’ had taken ‘concrete’ form in Russia as early as 1918.This was a date that thoroughly implicated Trotsky, but also placed Lenin, an even bigger Bolshevik icon, firmly in the frame. Indeed as was made clear, the ‘break’ did not happen after Lenin - it began with him.

As far as Red Action were concerned the choice thereafter was between the methods of Marx or Lenin. Outraged at such revisionism various groups, otherwise bitter rivals found common cause. Workers Power, The Leninist, Open Polemic among others, rushed to the defence of their idol, all visibly eager to claim a renegade scalp. Too eager as it turned Out.

To their chagrin, Red Action they found, were well dug in. Confronted with an analysis, firmly grounded in historical and theoretical fact, it was all too clearly they, and not Red Action, who had not done their homework. Horribly embarrassed they retreated with indecent haste. Possibly, some face-saving agreement was reached between them, for all of a sudden the matter was dropped.

Now brutal candour is again on the agenda. and again brickbats abound. As before in an effort to disavow logic there has been a concerted effort to demonise Red Action instead.

But with no evidence of Red Action wilting, the knockout-blow has, (unwisely as it turns out), been sought in the writings of Marx himself. Reminiscent of the debate of a decade ago generalities have since been flourished, with uncertain authority, by it must be admitted, (if lack of integrity is any consideration) some of the least serious protagonists.

For some time Red Action has been warning that the alarming growth of the Right in Europe is not attributable purely to their own efforts. On the contrary the fault lies with a multicultural ideology which has successfully supplanted ‘class’ in favour of ‘ethnic minority’ in the public mind. This has created the basis for the right to ‘return the serve’ by successfully campaigning for privileges for an ‘ethnic majority’.

It is imperative, Red Action has been arguing, for the Left to step outside the limits of this ‘minority versus majority’ logic, and set about reclaiming the initiative by displacing race with class, and thus shifting the burden of justification back on to the other side.

From a progressive perspective hard to argue with, you might have thought? But far from it. As if the political or social consequence were of no mind, ‘opposition to all immigration controls’ is to continue to be championed ‘as a bed-rock of Socialist Alliance policy’ we are told, on the basis that ‘where capital enjoys unrestricted freedom of movement it seems inescapable that labour must demand the same freedom’. Who this freedom is to be demanded of is not made clear? From capital? Which has just won for itself unrestricted freedom?

Further disregarding the current balance of forces, ‘economic migration’ is in future to be championed as a human right’, while the ‘welcoming’ of infinite numbers of ‘immigrants’ regardless of political or social repercussions is hailed as ‘a communist principle’.

Is it not odd that the upholding of a principle of communism is directly responsible for the rebirth of its political opposite? Or that Marx, who knew a thing or two, seems never to have heard of if? In fact, he was it appears, distinctly less evangelical on the subject of ‘economic migration’ than those who would claim to be his followers.

In 1866 for instance, he reported on the attempts to bring down wages in the tailoring industry in Scotland through the recruitment by master tailors, mostly 'big capitalists' of migrant labour from Germany. Writing on behalf of the Central Council of the International Working Men’s Association, Marx said:

“The purpose of this importation is the same as that of the importation of Indian coolies to Jamaica, namely the perpetuation of slavery. If the masters succeeded through the import of German labour, in nullifying the concessions they had already made, it would inevitably lead to repercussions in England.”

“No one would suffer more than the German Workers themselves, who constitute in Great Britain a larger number than the workers of all the other Continental nations. And the newly-imported workers being completely helpless in a strange land would soon sink to the level of pariah’s. Furthermore it is a point of honour with the German workers to prove to other countries that they like their brothers in France, Belgium and Switzerland know how to defend common interests of the class and will not become obedient mercenaries of capital in its struggle against labour.”

The efforts of the International in warning the Germans against migrating under such conditions was as Marx recorded “a great success”. A success not only in it’s own right, but with the practical benefits of the International on display, the English sections rushed to affiliate. What would have been the consequences for the Scottish, German and English workers, and the International itself had Marx, in response to a call for advice and support, mumbled something from the Manifesto about ‘internationalism’, and instructed them, as the LSA recommend “to move fast with cards and a welcome party” instead?

Currently, Labour is thinking about scrapping the 1971 Immigration Act in order to recruit skilled workers from India. The motivation is undoubtedly to drive down wages and conditions in the burgeoning computer industry. As things stand, even if the Left had leverage in India, it would not be exercised. As far as it goes all ‘obedient mercenaries of capital’ are deemed welcome. It is afterall their human right.

As the whole thing is a mess, it is entirely consistent Red Action and fellow travellers should be too deemed ‘pariah’ for saying so. But as hinted at, the current controversy and the previous debate are not unrelated. Back then, a staunch Leninist in danger of partially succumbing to the Red Action logic on some point or other, was publicly rebuked by a colleague who outlined his priorities as follows: “Of course, you realise comrade, that if Red Action are right, then we are wrong.” This time the equation is even more straightforward. Indeed it is perfectly simple. ‘Either we are right or the BNP are’. Your call ‘comrades’

Reproduced from RA vol 4, Issue 9, November/December '00