In his first speech of the new year, an event now being dubbed the “day of chaos”, British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn seized opportunity to unleash torrents of his confusion in his support base and back-pedal on one his long-held positions. Bowing to the pressure of the conservative wing of the party — and to the nationalist surge rippling across the UK and beyond — Corbyn announced that “Labour is not wedded to the free movement of people”, effectively signaling an about-face on earlier statements like that in September of last year that he would let immigration ‘surge’. Within a few hours Corbyn backpedaled again, telling a BBC reporter that despite his references to “managed migration”, he would not be seeking further immigration restrictions. If people had read that into his comments, he told the reporter, it was due to the misunderstandings.
Not that this matters at all. Corbyn’s re-pedal for the BBC stands in stark contrast to his earlier speech, and for many his shift from a pro-immigration stance to an anti-immigration stance was seen as a major victory. The only explanation for the glaring contradictions for the many statements he makes is that he’s attempting to hold together a fragile coalition, one fraught with divergent viewpoints, policy prescriptions, and social outlooks. But it is just another example of a tendency that seems all-but-inevitable in the game of electoral politics: that social democrats and liberals, at the end of the day, will always chose the side of the oppressors, and position themselves as enemies of the people.
An assault on immigration is sweeping the world. In the United States, much like Britain, it appears on both the left and right, in the mainstream of political discourses as well as in the marginalized. Donald Trump’s own brazen xenophobic, supremacist line needs no introduction here, nor does the outright fascism and white-power sentiment of much of his support base. Shifting towards the anarcho-capitalist and libertarian spectrum, we’ve seen the rise of Hoppeheads, whose entire political positions seems capable of being boiled down to talk of ‘restrictive covenants’, chanting “physically remove!!!” repeatedly, and hastily-made memes about Pinochet and helicopters. Moving from these post-ancap internet trolls to the more ‘classical’ anarcho-capitalist and [vulgar] libertarian end of things, Mises Institute president Jeff Deist hopped on the bandwagon by trying to cleave apart the free movement of goods and capital from the free movement of people (ironically, this very much parallels Corbyn’s initial ‘relaunch’ speech).
Meanwhile, outgoing President Obama allegedly told staffers that if Trump “deports thousands of kids, I don’t know that I can sit on the sidelines”. While such nobility makes for good headlines and good press for a president trying to preserve his legacy, this remark falls rather flat when one considers that the Obama years saw an incredible budgetary increase for both the Border Patrol and Immigration and Enforcement Customs, and that with the hardline application of Reagan-era immigration laws, deportations have soared to an all-time high. If Trump follows through with his declared commitment to increase these deportation rates (and there is no reason to suspect he won’t), it will be a continuation of already-existing trends that Obama exacerbated, and not an break or aberration in policy (as the American liberals have claimed).
And then there is the case of Bernie Sanders, the so-called progressive alternative to the rising tide of nationalist populism and overt racism — except that he too has rolled out dangerous anti-immigration rhetoric, going so far as to declare that open borders were a “Koch Brothers proposal” that left the nation in a weakened state. Such rhetoric, which is nothing other than the center-left mirror image of the rightist boogeyman of ‘Soros the globalist’, has appeared again on Sanders’ website, which aired in August of 2015 an article by Richard Eskow titled “’Open Borders’: A Gimmick, Not a Solution”. Eskow, in turn, is a fellow Campaign for America’s Future (CAF), a network of “citizen-activists”, academics and policy wonks that serves as the institutional nexus of the ‘progressive’ wing of the Democratic Party — that is, the wing of the party that momentarily broke through in the Sanders campaign. While most CAF members present themselves as ‘moderates’ on the issue of borders and immigration, this is just a shiny veneer on more hardline stances: former AFL-CIO president John Sweeney, for instance, pushed the notoriously reactionary union in a more “pro-immigrant” direction while simultaneously decrying the ‘downward pressure’ migrant labor puts on wages, while Robert Reich, the Secretary of Labor during the Clinton administration (and longtime advocate of ‘organized capitalism’) has simultaneously pointed to the very real economic benefits of immigration, while also arguing for the protection of ‘US labor’ from influx of foreign workers.
Ostensibly moving further to the left, there was the recent controversy regarding an article by Sam Gindin in Jacobin. Galvanized by the support for Sander’s self-described “socialist” (read: Great Society liberalism) platform, Gindin’s article calls for the a “renewed bout of labor militancy” that will build itself into a new party. Along the way, Gindin finds time to dismiss “the righteousness of fully open borders” as something that will “elicit a backlash” from the working class. Apparently the solution is to kowtow to racist impulses and shore up the discriminatory powers of the state – and indeed, Gindin falls in line with the likes of the ‘moderates’ in the CAF by suggesting that internationalism be forsaken in exchange for “trying to win people to a more liberal but regulated border policy”. Almost immediately there was a harsh backlash against Gindin, Jacobin, and the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the center-left political organization that is intertwined with the Jacobin’s leadership. Unsurprisingly, not much came from it aside from dismissals, hand-waving, scattered insults and a generalized refusal to address people’s concerns about the indiscriminate airing of the Gindin piece — a troubling fact given the DSA (which is also closely aligned with CAF) is growing by leaps and bounds, drawing heavily on the left-wing of the Democratic Party that had been marginalized first by the sidelining of Sanders by the Clinton and camp and then by the ascendancy of Donald Trump.
The situation is thus: the rising tide of far-right nationalism in institutional political systems is drawing power from, and in turn further empowering, racist, xenophobic, anti-immigrant sentiments. The rising opposition to the institutional right, in the form of the institutional and extra-institutional left (such as Sanders, Corbyn, and the more ‘radical’ leftists who support them), has a very inconsistent track record on the issues surrounding immigration and borders — a track record that is often indistinguishable from the right. This is not to say that Jacobin or the DSA have been overtly anti-immigrant and pro-closed borders 100% of the time: the DSA has, in the past, worked closely with immigrant rights groups and the open-borders sector of the labor movement, while Jacobin, despite having generally suspect political bearings, has run articles in line with globalist perspectives. What is problematic is that the consistent failure of these networks to reject anti-immigrant, anti-globalist positions, be it the appeal to nationalists by Gindin, the inability to address concerns raised by others on the left, or the glaring lack of any efforts to take figures like Sanders to task for anti-immigrant remarks, especially in a time when the status of immigrants is under fire from the now-in power right.
As anarchists and libertarians, we know that little good comes from political parties and electoral games, be it either in the primary arena of the mainstream or in the margins. We’re at a fairly unique moment in the modern era, when the margins have gained sizeable power (such as in the case of Jeremy Corbyn, or are on the upswing (the social democratic left in the US) — and it appears, without too much exaggeration, that they are intent on being a right-wing lite. As such, it behooves us to keep pushing, harder than ever, on the issue of immigrants and borders, to contest the assaults — be they hard or soft — from the right and the left, to keep organizing and building infrastructures for support and defense. Enough of the tawdry left and their cumbersome, ineffectual politics that only seek to preserve power and to limit people, not to destroy it and truly liberate them.