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Meet Europe’s Left Nationalists



In The Nation, David Adler examines the nationalist tendencies of several prominent politicians on the European left, including Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, Jean-Luc Mélenchon in France, and Sahra Wagenknecht in Germany. These figures believe that restricted migration is crucial to bolstering their national working classes and to undermining the power of transnational capital. But as Adler explains, there is not only scant evidence to suggest that such policies would be effective; they also fly in the face of the radical socialist tradition of free movement advocated by Lenin and Marx, among others. Here’s an excerpt:

Forget The Communist Manifesto ’s refrain that “the working men have no country”; the new face of the European left takes a radically different view. Free movement is, to quote Wagenknecht, “the opposite of what is left-wing”: It encourages exploitation, erodes community, and denies popular sovereignty. To advocate open borders, in this view, is to oppose the interests of the working class.

By popularizing this argument, these new movements are not just challenging migration policy in Europe; they are redefining the boundaries of left politics in a dangerous, and inopportune, direction. Over the next few decades, global migration is set to explode: By 2100, up to 1 million migrants will be applying to enter the European Union each year.

Right-wing populists have already begun their assault on migrants: In Italy, Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has called for “mass cleaning,” while Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has proposed that recent arrivals should be sent “back to Africa.” As left-nationalist movements charge ahead in the polls, it is not immediately clear who will challenge their pessimistic view of migration and fight for the right to free movement

Image: Left-wing French politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the organization La France Insoumise. Via Al Jazeera.


It is NOT Marxism to campaign for an “end to all immigration controls” or “open all borders” because this is a totally reformist, idealist approach that pretends things can be made better for everybody under capitalism if only everyone would be nice to each other, a notion that should be left to people who believe in little pink unicorns and sugar-plum fairies. In the real world, millions of people in any given country are hugely struggling with the capitalist conditions in their own country - with many migrating around the world for economic reasons, and with many of the receiving countries’ populations getting hugely vexed by the inflow of migrants that right-wingers will claim are “taking their jobs, housing, being a nuisance” etc.
Attempting to solely change ideas in people’s heads about this is pure idealism, and plays into the hands of the anti-migrant reactionaries (“left” or right).
The correct Marxist-Leninist approach is to bring all workers together by explaining that all workers around the world are facing the global historic “over-production” economic and warmongering crisis of capitalism and that they should fight for revolution IN THEIR OWN COUNTRIES. Whenever a fake “leftist” says “welcome all migrants”, the answer has to be “In what way is any person leaving their own country helping the revolution in that country?” - UNLESS that individual is a particularly imperilled leader or activist in the socialist or anti-imperialist revolutionary struggle in need of immediate safety (a genuine asylum seeker that should be supported by the workers movement).
As the Economic & Philosophic Science Review ( has explained in more detail: fake-“left” “politically correct” efforts to counter the xenophobia and scapegoating that backward nationalism (“left” or right) is obviously stirring up, by denouncing workers for “being racist” and demanding an end to all immigration controls, simply makes the problem worse, failing to understand the divisiveness and undermining of class solidarity deliberately fostered by capitalism’s immigration rackets.
In the context of ‘stable, reformist civilisation’, - of course there is an unanswerable humanitarian case for providing sanctuary to all ‘asylum seekers’, whatever the cause of their misery.
But if it really is a stable reformist civilisation, that response then is unanswerably challenged by the typical fascist objection that up to 500 million people in the Third World are unhappy with their lot. All have genuine cause for misery just as much as 99.99% of the existing flood of ‘asylum seekers’. Are all 500 million going to be welcomed to Britain too as a ‘solution’ to the problem??? (Or France, Italy, rest of Europe, USA, etc)
But if the notion of a ‘stable reformist civilisation’ is derisively rejected, as it should be, the issues change dramatically. The world is turned into one of unending revolutionary crisis caused by the very circumstances which drive individuals into asylum-seeking misery or peril. In which case there is a far better and more realistically constructive answer to the ludicrous challenge which ‘complete freedom for immigration’ otherwise presents. All who feel driven to flee their own homelands can be far more productively and satisfactorily urged to take help instead to achieve a revolutionary overthrow in their own countries, rather than eke out a miserable existence in, say, a Glasgow reception centre.
Only the revolution will change and provide real social progress in Britain; but individualist refuge-seeking Kurds, Afghanis, Iraqis, Latvians, etc, will be far closer to a revolutionary transformation of their miserable lives by making the revolution in their own countries than in remaining individually isolated in a Glasgow reception centre.
Genuine revolutionaries seeking political asylum as a respite from difficult revolutionary struggles in Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, etc, are one thing, - deserving all the help and encouragement they can be given.
Individuals who just want to opt out of their revolutionary struggle at home are a different problem entirely. They are individual ‘reformist’ cases which no more deserve to hijack the attention and struggle of the anti-imperialist revolutionary movement than do any number of domestic reformist cases of local people feeling miserable with their lot and demanding special treatment from the capitalist state authorities.
Opportunist economic migrants are no more an issue for the revolutionary movement than local people with housing grievances who decide to fight their own personal war against capitalism and to squat some better-off properties.
If it becomes a wholesale national revolutionary squatters movement, threatening to bring down the existing social order, so well and good; back it to the hilt. If it remains the personal crusade of isolated individualists, sympathy will be inevitable, but not any necessary need to make such protests a key part of the revolutionary cause.
The same with asylum-seekers/economic migrants. If they risk their lives to get to Britain (or France or Italy or USA) in order to raise the banner of proletarian revolution around the Glasgow reception centre, more power to their elbows. But if they are just breaking the ‘law’ in order to get an easier life as individuals, then let them and bourgeois ‘morality’ get on with it. Only the embarrassment to capitalism (from so much worldwide misery being in evidence from their system) is of much real use to the revolutionary struggle.
Every other intervention on behalf of such migratory economic opportunism is the purest reformism.
Publicly campaigning to encourage more and more of such reformist situations (by encouraging more and more such opportunist migration) becomes positively reactionary politics by the ‘politically correct’.
By raising such bogus ‘revolutionary’ issues around these reformist asylum-seeking rackets, the fake-’left’ is just pointlessly playing into the fascists’ hands.
Turn the problem back onto the capitalist system. Why are millions unhappy in their homelands??? Because of insoluble imperialist crisis. Solution??? Free-for-all immigration solves nothing. Only world socialist revolution offers any solution.
But none of the “left”-leave pro-Brexit groups are saying any such thing, as the recent People’s Assembly “general election now” Brexit demonstration made clear, backed by a slew of Trotskyists such as the Socialist Workers Party, SWP breakaways Counterfire, repeated Labour entryists the Socialist Party (Militant) and “left” Labourites, all calling for the Tories to be toppled and a Jeremy Corbyn government to be elected.
Far from explaining the crisis, this clutch of “Lexiters”, all shamefacedly hiding behind moralising “Stand up to Racism - welcome all migrants” placards (guiltily aware of the jingoism their Leave campaigning has helped stir up), show clearly that such “leftism” will always try to drag the working class back behind the thoroughly bourgeois reformist Labourites, and the deadly parliamentary delusions anti-Marxist fake “leftism” continues to foster.