I have been involved in a long debate on Twitter with the writer and activist Thomas Fazi, which began with his critique of my article on social conservatism and the working class and ended as a debate about immigration and the left. The debate consisted of very long threads from both of us (the four threads amount to more than 5000 words!), and inevitably was Twitterish in form and tone, peevish and crabby at times, but it got to the heart of much of the contemporary debate on these issues. So I have put the threads together as a series of essays that respond to each other. I have not edited anything (apart from the numbering on my tweets) and left each tweet as a separate paragraph.
1. Thomas Fazi’s critique of my article
The fall of Labour’s “red wall” and the crushing Tory victory in the recent UK elections has ignited a heated debate about the causes of Labour’s defeat. Apart from the most obvious causes (Brexit, media bias etc.), there is one alleged cause that is causing much controversy:
Labour’s inability to connect to a growing number of working class voters that are left-leaning on economic issues but – unlike the Labour establishment – “conservative” on social/cultural issues. Hence the latter’s drift towards the Tories.
The most vocal proponents of this idea are those associated with @blue_labour, which have been arguing for a long time for “a socialism which is economically radical and culturally conservative”.
Predictably, many on the left have criticised this argument. An example is this article by @kenanmalik: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/dec/22/idea-that-the-british-working-class-is-socially-conservative-is-a-nonsense
Malik claims that “the idea that the British working class is socially conservative is nonsense”, noting that on a host of issues – from gender roles to gay marriage, from premarital sex to interracial relationships – the British working class displays rather liberal views.
This is true. But is this enough to claim that notions of “working class social conservatism” are “nonsense”? Or is the question rather what we mean by “social conservatism” today?
Indeed, Malik himself admits that “social conservatism” today is generally framed not in terms of one’s opposition to “non-traditional” relationships etc., but rather in terms of one’s position on issues such as national sovereignty (see Brexit) and immigration.
However, he is quick to claim that even according to this criteria it would be wrong to describe the working class as “conservative”, citing a study (BSA) according to which nearly a third of unskilled workers are “pro-immigrant”.
That’s a pretty poor argument, considering that it means that 2/3 of the working class – the overwhelming majority – are “anti-immigration”. This is supported by a number of studies.
Interestingly, this attitude is not limited to the “white” working class. That same study shows that the majority (60%) of respondents of non-white ethnicity (whether UK-born or not) also want immigration to be reduced.
In classic example of left-Pavlovian response, Malik seems unwilling to confront these uncomfortable truths, preferring to take comfort in the fact that a minority of the working class is pro-immigration – enough to dismiss notions of working class conservatism as “nonsense”.
Malik’s argument gets even more contradictory from here on: to the extent, he says, that immigration is perceived as a problem – a fact he denied until a moment earlier – it is only because immigration has become “symbolic” of the working class’ loss of identity, community etc.
In other words, Malik says, immigration is not the cause but rather the symptom of working class anxieties over not only its growing material precariousness but also over its loss of collective identity and social atomisation.
It’s not clear what caused this “erosion of the more intangible aspects of [workers’] lives” for Malik – probably a vague notion of “neoliberalism”. But his solution is clear: the left must not base its attempts to rebuild community on “notions of national or ethnic identity”.
Rather, they should be based on “struggles to transform society, from battles for decent working conditions to campaigns for equal rights”, which “created organisations […] which drew individuals into new modes of collective life”.
Here we have yet another example of left-Pavlovian response – and they key to understanding the “woke” left’s failure to understand Labour’s failure. Since (a) they equate opposition to immigration – and more in general “conservatism” – with racism and (b) feel an urge…
… to defend the working class from accusations of racism, they are in turn (c) forced to deny – or to decry as fascistic – any notion of national identity. Because acknowledging the latter would mean accepting that concerns about threats to it may be legitimate.
Hence, to the extent that they acknowledge a longing for belonging and identity (not a given), they have to come up with “alternative”, more politically correct, forms of collective identity: unions, “movements”, etc. Anything but the dreaded notion of national identity.
This, however, represents a clear denial of reality. As important as narrower (local, political, religious, etc.) forms of identity may be, many studies show that national identity is not only very real, but it remains the strongest form of collective identity around the world.
Even among the young (less than 25 years old), those with a university education and professionals, national identity trumps local and – even more massively – regional (such as European) or global attachments, except among the globe-trotting cosmopolitan elites.
A country’s national identity (like nations themselves) may be, to a large extent, an “imaginary” construct. It may also be hard to pin down, encompassing customs, culture, history language, institutions, religion, social mores, etc. But it exists and has very “real” effects…
… creating common bonds among members of – and giving rise to – a territorially defined community (demos). To deny the existence of the latter is, in effect, to deny the existence of society itself. All that’s left is a bunch of individuals that happen to share a piece of land.
To consider national identity intrinsically fascistic is absurd. While it is true that it may lead to chauvinism or aggressive nationalism, a body politic (demos) is also the precondition for collective, democratic political action through the vehicle of the nation-state.
This holds particularly true for well developed welfare states, where the existence of a demos is crucial in generating the affective ties and bonds of solidarity that are needed to legitimise and sustain redistributive policies between classes and/or regions.
The woke left likes to vilify the nation-state, but all the major social, economic and political advancements of the past centuries were achieved through the institutions of the democratic nation-state, not through international, multilateral or supranational institutions.
Furthermore, modern concepts of nat. identity are incredibly “progressive”, based as they are on transcending individual particularities – sex, race, biology, religion, etc. – to create cultural-political identities based on participation, equality, citizenship, representation.
For woke leftists to raise the spectre of “whiteness” whenever the topic of national identity is mentioned is simply a testament to their ignorance. Modern national identities have nothing to do with biology and are indeed extraordinarily inclusive and “open”.
However, there are limits. A demos/society is by definition demarcated by borders (in/out) and a relatively stable membership. While national identity is, of course, constantly evolving, the pace of the change is everything.
When the national community perceives the pace of change to be too fast (for example a too-rapid inflow of immigrants with very different cultural and social norms), it naturally, instinctively reacts against the breakdown of social cohesion. To equate this with racism is absurd.
Indeed, many studies show that concern over immigration is not related to race (or country of origin or whatever) but to cultural-civic factors, primarily unease over the ability (or lack thereof) of immigrants to adapt to a country’s customs, norms, laws etc.
A society, of course, may also react to changes from within, for example against the too-rapid imposition of new social norms by a country’s cultural elites: see, for example, the whole debate over gender self-identification etc.
Thus, when we speak of working class or societal values, we are not talking of a specific set of predefined values. We are simply talking of whatever values, norms etc. happen to characterise a specific national community at any point in time.
This is not an argument against the evolution of national identity. It is an argument for respecting a national community’s right to have a say in the pace and form that such evolution takes. To ignore the latter is, quite simply, political suicide.
We are now in a position to offer a different explanation of “social conservatism”: this is simply society’s self-defence against those factors – internal or external – that are perceived as threatening its members’ need for community, belonging, rootedness and identity.
Labour’s continued survival as a working class party, I would argue, depends on its ability to engage with this need. END OF THREAD
A final note. A demos is not an alternative form of collective identification from class strugge. On the contrary, the former is the precondition for the latter:
As Costas Lapavitsas writes: “National parliamentary elections are occasions for the demos to express its collective will, and in capitalist societies the demos is inseparable from its class and other divisions…
“… National democratic politics is a contest among social interests vying for electoral supremacy, which may take a conscious class form and thereby acquire a characteristic sharpness, bitterness, and rivalry”.
“… able to create such an overarching social integration. Actual class divisions in Europe always take a national form, as do the party politics that correspond to these divisions. In Marxist terms there is neither a European capitalist class nor a European working class”.
REAL END OF THREAD
2. My response to Fazi’s critique
Given that you ‘quote’ me in this thread as saying things I never have, attribute views to me that I don’t hold, and refuse to engage with my actual arguments, I’d normally be reluctant to respond to what appears to be written in bad faith. But here goes, anyway.
First, if you can show me where I write ‘the idea that the British working class is socially conservative is nonsense’ I’d be interested (and I don’t mean the headline which, as you know, authors don’t write).
Perhaps what I actually wrote – that ‘the reality is more complex’ – was not incendiary enough to allow you to mount your high horse?
You write ‘Malik himself admits that “social conservatism” today is generally framed not in terms of… opposition to “non-traditional” relationships… but in terms of… issues such as national sovereignty (see Brexit) and immigration’ as if that undermines my argument.
My point is that ‘social conservatism’ has been redefined by people like you to exclude issues that don’t fit your argument. And that without that redefinition your argument about social conservatism would not hold.
Or, to adopt your approach and language: ‘Fazi admits that those who claim the working class socially conservative have redefined the concept of social conservatism so as to allow it to fit their argument’.
You write that my citing the fact that a third of unskilled workers are ‘pro-immigration’ is ‘a pretty poor argument’ because two-thirds are ‘anti-immigrant’. It would certainly be a poor argument if I had suggested that a majority weren’t worried about immigration.
What I actually wrote was that the BSA survey reveals ‘a sizable contrarian minority’ in favour of the same or more immigration. Note ‘minority’. Again, yours is argument by insinuation and by ignoring what I actually write.
You write ‘In classic example of left-Pavlovian response, Malik seems unwilling to confront these uncomfortable truths’. Given that I’ve written dozens of articles exploring working class hostility to immigration, that’s another specious claim.
Some articles on some of those ‘uncomfortable truths’: https://kenanmalik.com/2017/10/05/populism-and-immigration/ https://kenanmalik.com/2016/02/01/democracy-morality-and-the-migrant-crisis/ https://kenanmalik.com/2015/09/26/on-fences-and-fractures/
And some more: https://kenanmalik.com/2014/11/10/the-wrong-kind-of-panic/ https://kenanmalik.com/2014/11/05/populism-what-why-how/ https://kenanmalik.com/2017/03/05/grasping-diversity-embracing-democracy/ https://kenanmalik.com/2013/04/26/immigration-and-loss/
You write: ‘Malik’s argument gets even more contradictory from here on: to the extent, he says, that immigration is perceived as a problem – a fact he denied until a moment earlier.’ So, can you show me where I ‘deny’ that ‘immigration is perceived as a problem’?
A quote – an actual quote – would be good, rather than insinuation or things made up.
You write: ‘In other words, Malik says, immigration is not the cause but rather the symptom of working class anxieties’. What you don’t do is mention, let alone engage with, the research I cite…
…research which shows that that hostility to immigration is related not to the scale of immigration but to already existing lack of trust and social solidarity. Here’s one of the papers, btw: cps.ceu.edu/sites/cps.ceu.…
You write: ‘It’s not clear what caused this “erosion of the more intangible aspects of [workers’] lives” for Malik – probably a vague notion of “neoliberalism”.’ ‘Probably’ gives the game away – you’re interested not in what I do say, but what you think I ‘probably’ would say.
It’s a particularly odd accusation given that, unlike you, I’ve never written a book with ‘neoliberal’ in its title. But again, you seem more interested in rhetorical assertions than serious debate. Perhaps you should read what I do write on the issue (see links above).
Is it your view, then, that immigrants ‘caused’ the implosion of trade unions, the erosion of the collective power of the labour movement, the destruction of communities in pit villages and in towns built round steel works or ships, the rise of the gig economy?
Or the greater atomisation of society, the introduction of market principles into almost every nook and cranny of social life, the fracturing of much of social infrastructure, the imposition of austerity, etc?
Or the severing of links by social democratic parties to their traditional working class constituencies, the way that many public institutions have insulated themselves from the wider public, and the sense of voicelessness that many sections of the working class feel?
Or is that, against the background of these developments, and in an age in which the primary language through which we understand social problems has shifted from that of politics and class to that of culture and identity…
…that migrants have become the prism through which these developments have come to be seen and that immigration has become symbolic of a world that feels out of control?
You write ‘Here we have yet another example of left-Pavlovian response… they equate opposition to immigration – and more in general “conservatism” – with racism’. Is it too much to ask that you provide evidence that I make any such ‘equation’?
Or perhaps the fact that you think this is true is sufficient evidence for you? In which case, perhaps, again, you may want to want to read what I actually write on this issue:https://kenanmalik.com/2016/10/27/i-want-my-country-back/ https://kenanmalik.com/2016/07/13/democracy-was-never-intended-for-degenerates/https://kenanmalik.com/2017/03/05/grasping-diversity-embracing-democracy/ https://kenanmalik.com/2016/11/14/the-faultines-of-the-imagination/
You write: ‘to the extent that they acknowledge a longing for belonging and identity (not a given), they have to come up with “alternative”, more politically correct, forms of collective identity: unions, “movements”, etc. Anything but the dreaded notion of national identity.’
So, promoting trade unions and social movements is now to be seen as ‘politically correct’? In any case, you don’t engage with the argument that there has long been both left and right critiques of individualism and notions of what constitutes a community or collective.
You write: ‘To consider national identity intrinsically fascistic is absurd.’ Sigh. How many times do I have ask ‘Can you provide any evidence that I have ever claimed anything of the sort’?
As it happens I *am* critical of many of the ways that ‘national identity’ is deployed, not because it is ‘intrinsically fascist’ but partly for the very reason you celebrate it – its cross-class character.
It becomes a means of obscuring the fact that the working class often has to pay the price of what is done in the ‘national interest’. George Osborne’s ‘We’re all in it together’ argument for austerity is a good example.
Note that I have not used the word ‘fascist’ in my previous two tweets except in repeating your phrase.
You write: ‘modern concepts of nat. identity are incredibly “progressive”, based as they are on transcending individual particularities – sex, race, biology, religion etc – to create cultural-political identities based on participation, equality, citizenship, representation’.
First, there are different conceptions of national identity from the civic to the ethnic to the religious. They all have different meanings and consequences. The first thing to do, surely, is not to lump them all into one category of ‘modern concepts of national identity’.
Second, even civic forms of nationalism have always had a double-edged character, on the one hand transcending particularities, on the other creating new forms of divisions, and creating a new set of ‘Others’.
This can be seen in contemporary discussions. For instance, in France, often seen as the epitome of civic nationalism, those of North African origin have long been seen as possessing values outside the French republican tradition and therefore not properly French.
It’s not just in France but throughout Europe that we can see similar arguments. I’m not suggesting that that’s your argument. What I am suggesting is that…
…in ignoring the significance of such trends and blandly asserting the ‘progressive nature’ of contemporary national identity, it’s you that’s ignoring some ‘uncomfortable truths’.
Yes, I know you mention in passing that ‘it may lead to chauvinism or aggressive nationalism’, but one phrase in a very long thread is hardly an acknowledgment of the problems that nationalism and anti-immigration rhetoric currently create. Rather the contrary.
It is true that today nations ‘constitute the basis for the modern democratic state’. What is not true is your elision of ‘nation’ and ‘society’.
Nor is it true that to be a nation requires the imposition of stricter immigration controls. Indeed, today’s international system of immigration controls is a means of externalising the borders of rich nations and diminishing the sovereignty of poor ones.
(Whenever I’ve raised this issue with those who see ‘sovereignty’ primarily in terms of ‘control of immigration’, it’s usually the case that, for them, such control trumps any broader sense of defending sovereignty.)
Not wishing to turn this thread into an essay (it’s far too long already, much longer than I intended), I’ll leave it there. What I would say is that many of those who defend a ‘postliberal’ view of immigration and nationalism often complain of being caricatured.
Sometimes they are, and I have defended them against such caricatures:https://kenanmalik.com/2016/10/27/i-want-my-country-back/ https://kenanmalik.com/2019/10/26/not-as-shocking-as-some-want-to-believe/
The trouble is, those making such complaints are themselves no slouches in caricaturing, misquoting, or making claims with no evidence, as your thread shows.
Simply throwing in phrases such as ‘woke left’, ‘politically correct’ and ‘Pavlovian response’ might be rhetorically useful but it does not make for a useful debate.
Anyway, given that this is New Year’s Eve, I expect that I will have more fun things to do than return to Twitter, but if you do respond, I will try to get back later this week, so long as it’s not more of your caricatures, non-quotes and misquotes.
3. Thomas Fazi’s response
I’d like to thank @kenanmalik for engaging with me on this, also because it gives me the chance to clarify some points about my controversial thread on “what the left doesn’t get about social conservatism” that might have been unclear.
Firstly, I’d like to apologise to Malik if he feels I misrepresented his argument. While it’s true that the “nonsense” part is in the title, not the article, I feel the rest of my thread is a fair analysis of the article itself – not of Malik’s entire body of work, granted.
I think it’s fair game to criticise an article (and exposing what one may perceive to be as fallacies and inconsistencies) without having read all the author’s previous articles. That said, I promise to read the various articles of his that he has linked!
Moving on to the specific points raised by Malik in his response: they mostly revolve around immigration. Malik restates his case that the main cause of the growing material and existential precariousness of the working class…
… and erosion of communities and collective institutions has been neoliberalism – austerity, welfare retrenchment etc., and the neoliberalisation of left parties themselves –, not immigration. The latter has simply “become symbolic of a world that feels out of control”.
(Malik doesn’t use the term neoliberalism, that’s me).
Now, I completely agree with the first part of that statement. Of course the top-down class war waged on workers over the past four decades is by far the main cause of the deterioration of workers’ lives in the UK and throughout the West – in both material and immaterial terms.
My disagreement with Malik is over the second part of that statement. In this context of top-down class warfare, immigration, though not the main cause – obviously – of the impoverishment and marginalisation of native workers, can easily become a real, not “symbolic”, co-factor.
Leaving aside the social/cultural impact of immigration, not only is free movement of labour, in a context of weak unions and neoliberal anti-workers’ policies, used by the capitalist class to drive down wages…
… but, in a context of welfare retrenchment and austerity, immigration causes increased competition over scarce and declining public resources (housing, health etc.). The fact that such resources are kept artificially scarce doesn’t make the competition any less real.
By the same token, to the extent that neoliberalism has also “ero[ded] the more intangible aspects of [workers’] lives – their place in society, the sense of community, the desire for dignity”, as Malik writes
… a too-rapid inflow of immigrants with very different cultural and social norms can further erode – again, in real, not symbolic, terms – those “intangible aspects” of workers’ lives.
In other words, to ascribe working class hostility to immigration and free movement of labour purely to right-wing propaganda and media bias is to ignore that there may be rational and reasonable economic/material grounds for such hostility.
That said, one may ask: if anti-immigration sentiments (both materially and immaterially grounded) are largely the result of the precariousness caused by neoliberalism, why talk about immigration at all?
Why talk about the need to respond, from a left perspective, to the widespread unease over immigration, even if it fails to take into account “the bigger picture”? Shouldn’t the socialist left’s objective be that of explaining to people the “real” cause of their dissatisfaction?
Here’s why I think that’s a flawed strategy. Firstly, because I believe that borders and a sensible management of immigration would be necessary aspects of social cohesion even if we got rid of neoliberalism. It’s not all about economics.
But more importantly, because in order to solve the root cause of working class alienation – neoliberal policies – one needs to, well, get elected and take power. And you don’t do that by lecturing the working class about the “real” problems, false consciousness etc.
You do that, first of all, by acknowledging working class demands, even if they may be unpalatable, for example re: immigration. Especially if we consider that changing a society’s economic model is a long process, while immigration is perceived as a tangible and pressing issue.
How about trying a different approach? Such as acknowledging and addressing working class concerns about immigration, actually winning an election, once in power working to overcome neoliberalism, expand welfare and improve the living standards of all…
… and at that point, once you have created a more caring, supportive, inclusive economy – NOT before that – you launch a national debate about immigration. Wanna bet that most people will have a more welcoming attitude?
How about trying to break the cycle? END OF THREAD
4. My response to Fazi’s response
Thanks for this. My apologies for a slow response, I’ve been off Twitter for a few days. And as this has become a battle of the long threads, here’s another (very) long thread in response…
Before I get on to your substantive points, let me say that the problem isn’t that I ‘feel’ misrepresented. I was misrepresented and deliberately so. You say that apart for passing off a headline as a quote from me ‘the rest of my thread is a fair analysis of the article itself’.
So, let me ask you the same questions that I asked previously and which you have not addressed. You claimed that I ‘deny’ that ‘immigration is perceived as problem’ (https://twitter.com/battleforeurope/status/1211608601468506112). Can you provide any evidence for this ‘fair analysis’?
You claimed that I ‘equate opposition to immigration – and more in general “conservatism” – with racism’ – apparently a ‘left-Pavlovian response’ (https://twitter.com/battleforeurope/status/1211608611891351552). Can you provide any evidence for this ‘fair analysis’?
You write that ‘To consider national identity intrinsically fascistic is absurd.’ (https://twitter.com/battleforeurope/status/1211608629239074816) You’re right, it is. But can you provide any evidence that I have said anything of the sort?
There are more examples of such egregious misquotes, and misrepresentations. You write ‘I think it’s fair game to criticise an article (and exposing what one may perceive to be as fallacies and inconsistencies) without having read all the author’s previous articles.’
I don’t expect you to have read all my previous articles. I do expect you not to deliberately misquote or misrepresent. That you still think that what you produced was ‘fair analysis’ suggests that you don’t know what constitutes a ‘fair analysis’.
Be that as it may, let’s deal with your more substantive points. In your initial thread the main issues seemed to be arguments about nationalism, national identity and the social conservatism of the working class, all which I challenged.
In this thread, you’ve ignored all those issues, and talk solely about the question of immigration, so let’s deal with that.
You write that ‘the top-down class war waged on workers over the past four decades is by far the main cause of the deterioration of workers’ lives in the UK and throughout the West – in both material and immaterial terms.’
You then write, ‘immigration, though not the main cause – obviously – of the impoverishment and marginalisation of native workers, can easily become a real, not “symbolic”, co-factor.’
First, by making such an issue of immigration as responsible for the precariousness of working class lives, you deflect from the ‘by far main cause of the deterioration of workers’ lives in the UK and throughout the West’.
That’s precisely how the panic over immigration has been used – to help create a sense that it’s immigration that has been responsible for job losses, stagnating wages, lack of housing, lack of resources in the NHS, etc.
It’s people like you who also promote this mantra, even though you acknowledge that ‘by far the main cause of the deterioration of workers’ lives’ lies elsewhere that must bear at least part of the responsibility for the argument having become entrenched.
You write that ‘free movement of labour, in a context of weak unions and neoliberal anti-workers’ policies, used by the capitalist class to drive down wages…’
Most studies show that free movement for workers from the EU has not had a negative impact on wages: cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/…cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/…stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com/stumbling_and_…
Some studies show that some workers at the bottom of the labour market may suffer a small decrease in wages. But the impact is small, and the benefits for even for the least well-paid workers outweighs the disadvantages: niesr.ac.uk/blog/how-small…
But the real problem with your argument is not empirical but political. When women started entering the labour in large numbers, many at that time also claimed that employers would use them to drive wages down.
I doubt whether you would have supported that argument or called for restrictions on women entering the labour market. Employers have always sought to drive down wages through exploiting reserve armies of labour – migrants, women, the young, the old, the unemployed, etc.
Our response should not be to say ‘we must exclude these groups from the labour market’ but to organize to ensure wages and conditions are maintained for all. I assume you’d make this argument with respect to women and the young, so why not also with respect to migrants?
When you write that you make you argument ‘in a context of weak unions and neoliberal anti-workers’ policies’, what you are implying is that little can be done about weak unions and anti-worker policies, and so it’s necessary to target immigrants.
I take the opposite view: that only labour movement organization will protect working class rights and, even if immigration was reduced to zero, employers would still seek to take advantage of ‘weak unions and neoliberal anti-workers’ policies’ to hammer wages and conditions.
Blaming immigrants for the problems facing working class people is to weaken the ability of the working class to resist further attacks on jobs, living standards and organizations.
You also write that ‘a too-rapid inflow of immigrants with very different cultural and social norms can further erode – again, in real, not symbolic, terms – those “intangible aspects” of workers’ lives’.
It’s an argument that’s been made throughout the past century in response to every wave of immigration. When Jewish refugees fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe started coming to Britain at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries, there was an anti-Jewish backlash…
…leading to the setting up of the 1903 Royal Commission on Alien Immigration. ‘There is no end to them in Whitechapel and Mile End. These areas of London might be called Jerusalem’, claimed one witness giving evidence to the commission.
Would you have suggested in 1903 that the left must adopt this view about ‘immigrants with very different cultural and social norms’ to make itself electable?
Would you have supported the 1905 Aliens Act, Britain’s first immigration controls, aimed primarily at stopping the influx of Jews? If not why not, given the fears about ‘eroding cultural and social norms’, the same fears as you are expressing now?
In the postwar years the same fears were expressed about South Asians and West Indians, leading to Thatcher’s infamous interview in 1978 when she claimed that ‘people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture.’
Would you have said then that the left must adopt Thatcherite views about immigration to win back the working class? If not why not, given that the fears she expressed are not that different from the fears you are expressing now?
The irony is that today many critics of immigration (including the likes of Nigel Farage) point to the 1970s and 1980s as the period when immigration was under control and argue that Britain needs to return to those levels of immigration.
The trouble is, when we had those levels of immigration, the then-equivalents of Farage and Blue Labour were insisting the levels were too high…
…and expressing the same fears as you are now about ‘immigrants with very different cultural and social norms further erod[ing]…those “intangible aspects” of workers’ lives’
The argument you are making about cultural erosion has been made throughout immigration history, whatever the numbers, and whoever the migrants might be.
The second problem with your argument is that you assert that, but don’t show how, immigrants ‘with very different cultural and social norms can further erode… those “intangible aspects” of workers’ lives’. It ‘can’ erode, but in what way has it?
Is the problem of the erosion of the intangible aspects of workers lives the fact that too many mosques have been built or that there too many shops selling Polish produce?
Or is it the erosion of the organizations, institutions and social networks that once defined working class lives? From the squeezing of trade unions to the closure of pubs and clubs to the physical destruction of communities built round factories and pits that have gone?
And that new workplaces and working practices no longer help inculcate such bonds of solidarity? And that the very sense of being part of the working class has fragmented? And, if this so, why blame migrants for all this?
You ask: ‘if anti-immigration sentiments (both materially and immaterially grounded) are largely the result of the precariousness caused by neoliberalism, why talk about immigration at all?’
First, because anti-migrant hostility obscures the real roots of the social problems facing the working class. And, second, because migrants are human beings, many are part of the working class, and their rights, lives and dignity should be important to anyone on the left.
You write: ‘in order to solve the root cause of working class alienation… one needs to, well, get elected’ and that means ‘acknowledging working class demands, even if they may be unpalatable, for example re: immigration’.
That is at least honest if breathtakingly cynical. ‘I know that ‘neoliberal policies’, not migrants, are ‘by far the main cause of the deterioration of workers’ lives’, but I will promote ‘unpalatable’ policies about migrants because otherwise I won’t win votes.’
Have you ever thought that it’s the cynicism of people like you, and your unwillingness to challenge myths about immigration, that is responsible for maintaining those myths?
Have you ever thought that had people like you actually challenged those myths from the beginning, that we might be living in a different political climate today?
You ask: ‘How about trying to break the cycle?’ Indeed.
The images are, from top down: From Helen Zughaib’s‘Syrian migration’ series; ‘Arriving for the early shift’, one of Sid Kirkham’s Stoke on Trent Potteries paintings; Wilhelm Sasnal’s ‘Palm Bay’; Mauro Valsangiacomo‘s ‘Mediterraneo’