Open borders and the left

This is an interesting article by Peter Ramsay in favour of open borders. He is critical of Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on immigration on the grounds that compassion is a problematic basis on which to argue in favour of free movement:

Corbyn is right that the uniting of compassion and social justice, on the one hand, with solidarity and internationalism, on the other, lies at the heart of the old left’s politics that have been revived in the Labour Party. The old left’s list of ‘values’ is superficially attractive but it contains a fatal flaw. By representing solidarity and internationalism as matters of compassion and social justice, the old left has played down the central aspect of internationalism – the common interests of wage earners in one country with the wage earners of other countries.

Ramsey draws out one of the problems with the focus on compassion when he says that:

This creates a tension between the old left and its potential supporters. When working classs voters express hostility to immigration, they appear to suffer a compassion failure and it is tempting to explain that as an expression of ingrained popular racism. As a result, the left often finds itself either bemoaning the supposedly racist attitudes of ordinary citizens or adapting to those citizens’ fear of immigration by promoting ‘firm but fair’ immigration controls, as the last Labour government did.

Ramsey then contrasts the old Labour Left view with that of Slajov Zizek. 

Zizek is right to argue that to demand ‘tolerance’ and ‘compassion’ from ordinary people in these circumstances is an inadequate response to the issues posed by mass migration. Instead, as Zizek puts it:

‘The only way to break this deadlock is to move beyond mere tolerance: we should offer others [refugees and migrants] not just our respect, but the prospect of joining them in a common struggle, since our problems today are problems we share.’

Zizek is surely correct that the only realistic long-term solution is for citizens and migrants to recognize their shared interests. 

Ramsey then goes on to point out that Zizek’s approach is also problematic. Zizek’s (Stalinist-influenced) support for states, (rather than ordinary working people), as the medium for social change leads him to advocate intergovernmental fora as a means to tackle the ‘migration crisis’. The idea of ‘common struggle ‘ is completely lost in the process:

Zizek proposes to enlarge, extend and reorganize the intergovernmental institutions that are currently relied on to shore up the existing global order. These are the very institutions that have evolved a fake version of internationalism in order to frustrate the democratic accountability of European governments to their citizens – as the recent Greek crisis dramatically demonstrated. They are the same institutions relied upon by the very Western states that have, over decades of imperialist and humanitarian meddling, reduced the Middle East, Afghanistan and North Africa to the chaos that has engendered the current refugee crisis. All this, Zizek proposes in the name of a ‘common struggle’ between those disenfranchised citizens and migrants. And he claims to be the realist!

Ramsay then advocates open borders as the only realistic solution (against Corbyn & Zizek). 

The political demand for open borders, by contrast, poses a realistic political way of life as opposed to tired Europe’s fantasising; a way of life based upon taking collective responsibility for our existence as human beings rather than trying to evade it; a way of life that is well adjusted to global reality. Open borders is not a political demand that will immediately appeal to a majority of people, and it will not save the Labour Party’s bacon at the next election. It is not ‘realistic’, if by ‘realistic’ you mean what will allow you to get your hands on the levers of the existing state apparatus at the next opportunity. But it is the only real basis upon which the ordinary citizens of Europe could make common cause with the rest of humanity and begin to take control of our societies from our corrupt and exhausted elites.

You can read the full article at:

https://thecurrentmoment.wordpress.com/2015/09/23/open-borders-the-only-realistic-policy/

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