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To organise as migrants

It is high time for us to organise not for, and not with, but as migrants.

There is nothing new about migration. People have always been on the move, for work, for love, for seeking better lives and in many cases – because home had become ‘the mouth of a shark’ as Banksy has put it.

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Today 250 Million of the world inhabitants permantly live in a country that they were not born in. If migrants were to form their own country, it would be the 5th most populous in the world. Many more people call several places home, and regularly move between them. The last few decades have seen a large increase of these figures, as easier transport and media have spurred global connectivity.

For quite some time, politicians have encouraged such connectivity under the banner of globalisation. There has been the consistent talk of the ‘global village’ in which we were living. At least two generations of children have been brought up to think of themselves as ‘citizens of the world’ in many places of the world.

Real-existing border and economic regimes have always contradicted such idealist claims. Elites may have argued for increased connectivity and the economic benefit it brings, but it is migrants who did the work: taking the alienating, expensive, laborious and often dangerous journeys that would allow them to benefit from and become part of globalisation.

There have been many pushes but few successes in making the challenge of migration easier. The EU’s principle of freedom of movement that derives from EU citizenship is one such success. Problematic for the exclusion of those same rights to non-EU citizens, the EU citizenship offers a glimpse of how things should be: Freedom of movement for all.

Cultural Backlash

Today significant parts of the global political leadership openly renounce the trajectory towards more open borders. Both the new UK and US government pursue populist platforms that advocate the re-nationalisation of politics and economics, claiming to have democratic mandates to do so.

There is nothing new about migration, but unfortunately there is nothing new about anti-migrant sentiments either. Many people are afraid of what is strange and what brings change. The vast majority of Trump and Leave voters were motivated less by economics than by what US scholars refer to ‘cultural backlash’, a rejection of the perceived cultural hegemony of liberal and cosmopolitan values. Research on voter preferences in both US elections and in the EU referendum show that anti-migrant sentiments are highly correlated to a specific set of policy preferences, including the rejection of ecological agendas (and the denial of climate change), gay rights, same-sex marriages, and feminism, among others.

The populist right combines those issues via the conspiracy theory of  ‘Cultural Marxism’. UKIP’s leader and Stoke-on-Trent by-election candidate Paul Nuttall regularly evokes the term to describe what he thinks is wrong with the contemporary world. Quite extensive reflections on ‘Cultural Marxism’ can also be found in the writings of the Norwegian right-wing mass murderer Anders Breivik.

Data on voter preferences shows that such views also strongly correlate with age. ‘Remain’ had a significant majority amongst Britons under the age of 45 and Hillary Clinton was the preferred candidate for US voters under 45. Much of the ‘cultural backlash’ may thus be a matter of generation: statistically speaking, the older we are, the more hostile we seem to be towards progress and change.

When this generational conflict plays out in aging societies, older, more conservative people have increasing political influence. But aging societies need migrants to stabilize their social security systems, to make up for relatively low birth rates and higher life expectancy. And thus a bitter paradox emerges: As societies get older, they need more migrants but they are also more likely to reject immigration.

Under attack

Theresa May’s political conviction and strategy converge in her anti-migrant politics and British nationalism, expressing and successfully playing to the ‘cultural backlash’ ideology, During her tenure in the home office May re-designed immigration rules to make entry into the UK all but impossible for ever larger groups of prospective immigrants, students and refugees. She happily ignored both the interest of key UK industries like the Higher Education Sector and basic human decency. In summer 2014 May openly posited that drowning refugees must not be saved for this would encourage more to take the journey. In October 2016, as new Prime Minister carried into office on the back of Brexit, she issued what is likely to be remembered as the defining verse of her rule: ‘A Citizen of The World is a Citizen of Nowhere’.

Slogans perform policy. May effectively threatened to strip to ‘bare life’ a vast array of mobile folks, from bankers to undocumented migrants. In Germany, with its history of making people ‘citizens of nowhere’, such a statement would likely have caused a career ending scandal for any mainstream politician.

There is nothing new about anti-migrant sentiments, and for the moment the ‘cultural backlash’ seems to have the upper hand. But today migrants are more and stronger than ever in human history. This weekend migrants managed again to break through the fences of Ceuta, reaching EU territory in Northern Africa, while 160000 people marched through Barcelona demanding from the Spanish government to open the borders for refugees.

Today migrants across the UK take part in 1daywithus, highlighting their contribution, confronting xenophobia and resisting to be made ‘citizens of nowhere’.

We need migration, not just to maintain social security systems, but to remain forward looking, positive and open societies. It is high time for progressives to organise not for, and not with, but as migrants, as proud citizens of the world.

Fighting Capitalism in one country at the time: The British nationalism of the old Left

Cameron removed himself from the picture.

Cameron has removed himself from the picture, but Labour seems not up to filling the blank

Like many on the left, I was happy for Jeremy Corbyn to become Labour leader. This seems now, unfortunately, a terrible error of judgement. Corbyn and his shadow chancellor John McDonnell have confirmed that they will not attempt to reverse the referendum result. Instead they seem to be aligning with the Conservatives in prioritising the British national interest, while ignoring the wishes of their many young supporters for a post-nationalist world.

Remain and Lexit

The Labour party leadership supported the Remain campaign. Many accused Corbyn to be lukewarm in his support and he confirmed as much. Many Blairites among Labour MPs and in the party think that Corbyn did too little. There is now a full fledged rebellion against Corbyn/McDonnell among Labour party members of parliament. One cannot seriously be symphathetic to the motives of some of those who now demand Corbyn’s head. Throwing the Labour party into an internal power struggle in the middle of a massice crisis of Conservative politics seems absurd. And yet, Corbyn/McDonnell have significantly contributed to the Labour crisis in their post-referendum moves.

In the first days after the referendum I was ready to give Corbyn/McDonnell the benefit of the doubt. Like many I just did not really expect for this vote to go the way it went. British leftist, I believed, and the many more decent people in the country, would recoil in horror from a ‘Leave’ campaign that argued with blatant lies and deceit, with barely concealed racism, culminating, lest we forget, in the racist murder of pro-European MP Jo Cox.

But many Left Brexit (or ‘Lexit’) supporters carried on more or less regardless. What were their motivations? Labour MP John Mann put it most pointedly:

“My opposition from the very beginning has been on the lines that fighting capitalism state-by-state is hard enough. It’s even harder when you’re fighting it on the basis of eight states, 10 states and now 28.”

Mann added he was not a racist, nor were his constituents.

Two weeks after the vote, the number of racist incidents in Britain has skyrocketed and it feels like the next right wing murder is now only a matter of time. You would hope that this outcome would open the eyes of Lexit supporters, but there are few that have confirmed they regret their decision.

What is worse, John McDonnell has confirmed the nationalist approach expressed by John Mann and also clarified what ‘fighting capitalism in one state’ actually means.

‘the single market is to end, but freedom of movement is to be defended in post-Brexit negotiations’

You wish! McDonnell said the exact opposite:

‘Let’s be absolutely clear on the immigration issue. If Britain leaves the European Union, the free movement of people, of labour, will then come to an end.’

McDonnell added that single market access for Britain is to be retained, and the ‘passport’ of London banks, that allows them to trade in the EU, is to be defended.

If this sounds like the mainstream Conservative position to you, you might be excused. Would we not expect from a left wing party to defend freedom of movement? Would we not expect that this matters more to a left wing party than access of international banks to the EU single market? Would we not, at the very least, expect Labour to ridicule the Conservative fantasy that the EU will allow full access to the single market without ‘freedom of movement’.

‘Les extremes se touchent’

The horseshoe theory describes what some consider the overlaps between radical right wing and left wing positions. It often points to a joint rejection of democracy by the radical right and the radical left. But the rejection of democracy is perhaps a symptom, but certainly not the cause of right and left wing convergence. Its prime cause is nationalism.

The Syriza government of Greece is a typical example. When they first came to power in January 2015, Syriza needed a coalition partner. Instead of choosing a party of the left (there were three options: The Greek communists, the pro-European POTAMI and social-democratic PASOK) they choose to form a coalition with the right wing populist and anti-migrant ANEL. This coalition is still in power. What unites these two parties? Contrary to the arguments made by some proponents of the horseshoe theory, it is not their rejection of democracy. It is their joint Greek nationalism. This is most evident in the Greek government’s reluctance to attack Greek elites and their continuous tax evasion. Essentially nationalist feeling are exploited to enable the continuation of the capitalist status quo, in which local elites are able to retain their privilege.

In Britain something very similar is to happen, should the Brexit vote stand: McDonnell has confirmed that local capitalist elites matter more than international workers. Those working in this country, whether British or migrant, will continue to see their benefits and social services cut in order to stabilize the post-Brexit economy. The added difference is that many migrants will loose some of their rights, making it easier for British businesses to push down wages for everyone. Conveniently British and migrant workers will be increasingly antagonistic to each other, and the resurgent racism will make it more difficult to form alliances among them.

The only way to prevent this terrible development is for all progressive forces to fight to reverse the referendum result. The Greens have now joined the call for this important and potentially game changing project. But Corbyn/McDonnell are refusing to do so.

The nominal internationalism of the old left

Many have pointed to the centrality of age in the voting outcome. People under 45 years old overwhelmingly voted to remain, while those older voted to leave. But why did age play such an important role? Perhaps it is the lived post-national experience of many younger Brits. Perhaps lacking such an experience, Corbyn and McDonnell, along with many more old Lexiters, are caught up in what can only be described as British nationalism. British nationalism seems paradox, because commonly Britain is not considered a nation, but a union of nations. But it seems this apparent paradox makes British nationalism somewhat more acceptable, particularily in the left.

While nominally internationalist, and in permanent symbolic support of workers in other countries, a thoroughly British lens dominates the old left’s political worldview. What it often lacks, despite countless political travels and gestures of international solidarity, is a material experience of post-nationalism. In contrast, many people under 45 share a sense of post-national political outlook, because they have worked and lived in countries other than the one they were born in, or simply because they do not like to be tied down to one nationality.

The lack of a post-nationalist outlook on the left leads to viewing the world as a replica version of British politics, or rather in the continued British imperialist perspective, even if it is of course reversed to anti-imperialism. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for example, is often read as if Israel was an incarnation of British imperialism, a British establishment colony of sorts. Accordingly the Palestinians are seen as equivalent to the British working class. Thus for the old British left, the Israelis are always wrong and the Palestinians always right, leading to terrible errors of judgements, as the recent Anti-Semitism row in the labour party has shown vividly.

Similar distorted the view on the Greek crisis: the EU is seen as establishment, a version of the British Empire, while the Greeks are collectively victim of a colonial assault. The inability and unwillingness of the left Greek government to go after their own tax-evading elites: ignored. The fact that Greece’ GDP is still higher than it was before Greece joined the Euro: irrelevant. The Greeks’ ability to move to other EU countries, including Britain, with full rights: dispensable!

Most dangerous is the distorted British nationalism of the left, when it claims that capitalism can be fought one country at the time. Do McDonnell and Corbyn seriously think that their core voters appreciate their attempt to copy Conservative and UKIP positions? Once nationalism is accepted as the only game in town, voters will opt for the original.

A post-nationalist reality

In contrast to the nominal internationalism of the old left, there exists a very different experience and outlook for many British people. Those Scottish and Irish Brits who voted to remain in the EU did so, because they want to be more than British. Many Brits, including many English and Welch have deliberately left behind the UK and decided to love, live and work post-nationally. Many more desire the option to do so, whenever they want. To them their British identity is important, but they are also distinctly enjoying the added benefit of a broader worldview. It is of little surprise how many Brits are now considering getting alternative EU passports. And an important part of the battle against Brexit will be individuals that legally challenge any attempts by a British government to take away their European Citizenship.

The European Union has it greatest achievement in enabling people to be more than just British, more than just German, French, Spanish or Greek. This is the left, truly anti-nationalist essence of the European Project. And it should be an absolute priority for all on the left to defend European Citizenship against those caught up in nationalist worldviews, whether from the right or from the left.

The EU has, without a doubt, led to an increase in nationalist sentiments. This is partly because of the ways the EU is set up, where the role of national governments remains too important in decision making, tempting most of them to play nationalist cards. Those living in the post-nationalist reality need to join forces and defend the achievement enshrined in our joint status as European citizens – a status that can only be a stepping stone to overcome nationalism everywhere.

For Corbyn/McDonnell the task is to listen to the voices of those that support them mostly: young people desiring to get rid of the nasty and backward right wing nationalism and racism expressed in UKIP and sections of the Conservative Party. They need to use the momentum among progressive forces in the UK, cleanse themselves of their residual British nationalism and join the broad support for a post-nationalist reality.

If they are not up to this task, there is no doubt that they need to step aside!

 

 

This referendum result will not stand: The European Citizens of the UK can reverse it.

Friday morning there was shock. The referendum result is a historic defeat for the left, the world has taken a massive step towards an epoch dominated by right-wing populism, with all the implications: more racist murderers on our streets, more people dying in their attempts to cross borders, more injustice and inequality!

On Sunday morning it is clear that those campaigning for ‘leave’ have no idea what to do with their victory. Another shock, perhaps, but also an amazing opportunity. We can and we must reverse the referendum result.

Leave’ is in disarray
The referendum has created a power vacuum. But the ‘leave’ campaign has not filled the vacuum. The first thing Nigel Farage did was to cancel the ‘leave’ campaign’s promise to channel an additional 350 Million Pounds weekly into the NHS. Farage never made the promise, not being part of the official ‘leave’ campaign. But no one from the official ‘leave’ campaign has challenged him, so we must assume that this promise is now effectively broken.

Then MEP Daniel Hannan argued that Britain will continue to accept the freedom of movement of labour post Brexit. BBC’s top hack Evan Davis, certainly no person to be naïve about politicians and their promises, was publically freaking out in disbelief: labour migration into the UK will continue exactly as is! Second promise broken – Tick.

And for ‘taking back control’? Ah no, not really: instead of speeding up the process of separation from the EU by triggering Article 50, Liam Fox argued that there is plenty of time: no rush to leave, informal negotiations that may drag out for months. Article 50 may not even have to be invoked. What this boils down to, in effect, is potentially a decade of negotiations with the EU about a special status. In other words, more of the usual: Ever since I have followed politics Britain has negotiated with the EU over its special status.

The most important sign of the weakness of ‘leave’ however is the silence of Boris Johnson. You would think a politician grabs the power now freely floating around Downing Street. Instead Johnson issues a desperate plea to Cameron to continue. The first candidates to emerge are Teresa May and George Osborne: ‘remain’ campaigners. You couldn’t make it up.

The contradictions riddling the right in the light of their victory are perhaps not so surprising. From a pro-business, capitalist perspective, the EU brings simply too many advantages. Only nutcases imagine an economy organised on a national scale. For most ‘leave’ was never about leaving the single market. But the single market comes with free movement of labour. It also comes with an almost infinite number of regulations and laws. Most of these are effectively EU laws, and now need to be translated in to new British laws. The whole process is but case of copying existing EU laws into UK laws without being able to change much (as this would threaten the single market). This exercise is pointless but far from simple: It is going to occupy the British civil service for a decade. Is this what ‘taking back control’ is suppose to mean? Pretty boring it is as well, too boring, I am sure, for someone like Johnson.

Without a plan, and with all central promises already broken, the winning side in this referendum has lost all legitimacy. Turmoil in the markets and a weakening pound will further undermine the ‘leave’ arguments. Many who voted for ‘leave’ might now turn further to the right, hoping someone will finally give them a better deal. The danger of a massive further turn to right-wing populism can only be contained by a sustained campaign for a reversal of the referendum.

European Citizens of the UK
Many argue we need to accept the referendum result. All Jeremy Corbyn wants to do now, is to review labour’s migration policy. The Greens want to revisit proportional representation. In a situation where the right is in disarray, Labour and the Greens needs to be more courageous than this: why not exploit the fact that the promises of ‘leave’ are already broken. We need to go to the labour heartlands and explain that whatever people might think and want, migration is here to stay. And we need to make promises, for real, about a redistribution of wealth. It goes some way along the lines what Paul Mason has suggested, but we need to go further than Mason. The referendum result, the victory of the populist right, must be reversed and Labour and Greens should openly campaign for this!

MP David Lammy wants to reverse the referendum vote in parliament. But this is a dangerous approach, likely to cause even more of an opening for the far right. Nicola Sturgeon has suggested that the Scottish parliament may veto Brexit. This is a much more reasonable and realistic approach, because it is fully backed by the result of the vote. Why not demand that the English and Welch dismantle the UK first and then split from the EU on their own? Sturgeon is, without a doubt, the most reasonable and credible politican in the UK at the moment.
There is also the Lib Dems: they sense that there is an opportunity and campaign openly for a reversal of the referendum. You may think what you want about the Lib Dems, but this is the right approach.

There is also a political force that has not yet been considered: Two million European Citizens in the UK do not hold UK or Irish passports and were barred from voting in the referendum! They now organize for a day of protests and strikes on the 4th of July.United with British citizens that are and want to remain European Citizens we can challenge the referendum on at least four counts:

1) The UK has no right to leave the EU against the will of two of its constituent parts, Northern Ireland and Scotland. If England and Wales want to leave the EU, they need to dismantle the UK first.

2) EU citizens in the UK without a UK passport were excluded from the vote. In contrast, English people living in Scotland were allowed to vote in the Scottish referendum 2 years ago!

3) The ‘leave campaign’ has broken all key promises of their campaign within 24 hours after the results were in. The people who voted ‘leave’ have been mislead.

4) To enable the UKs continuous economic relations with the EU and the rest of the world, nearly all of the EU legislation from which Britain would withdraw needs to be replaced by UK laws of the exact same content. Brexit is but a huge bureaucratic charade.

The UK left has a historic opportunity, and perhaps an obligation, to halt the advance of right wing populism. The platform on which we stand is our shared European Citizenship, whether we hold British passports or not!