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August 13, 2005

Against Lind's Anti-immigrant Social Democracy

I'm cross-posting this argument I'm having with Michael Lind over at TPM Cafe, since it goes to the heart of where progressive politics needs to go in the new global era. Across the developed world, a certain kind of anti-immigrant politics has emerged, tied to defending the welfare state against the hordes from the developing world.  The vote against the EU Constitution in France was at least partly based on the fear that integrating poor workers from Turkey into European society would undermine strong welfare state standards on the Continent.

Josh believes that Lind "is actually arguing for Democrats to embrace a more left economic agenda, especially on trade," but Lind's position is less a left position than a rightwing European position of aspiring to a fortress welfare state for the privileged workers of the developed world.

And it is a position that the US Left -- at least the labor, environmental and civil rights versions of that left -- has rejected.  The Sierra Club, for example, had a massive internal fight that decidedly rejected an anti-immigrant takeover of the organization.  After briefly flirting with anti-immigrant sentiments in the early 1990s, most of the civil rights leadership have embraced solidarity with immigrant rights.  And the labor movement has repudiated its old anti-immigrant policies with a strong embrace of legalization for undocumented workers. Too often mainstream liberals trade in a sterotype that labor and the left advocate protectionism as a way to protect American workers from global competition.  Yet the left position on immigration defies that stereotype and emphasizes that objections to trade deals are about their pro-corporate slant, not some objection to sharing global wealth with workers in developing nations.  

If the color line was the issue of the 20th century, the fate of national borders is the issue of the 21st-- with all the issues of the color line carried over into the new multi-ethnic politics of immigration and nationalist disputes.   And Lind is on the rightwing side of that political border issue.

The 20th century saw two wayward left projects, both variants on "socialism in one country."  Stalinism has been broadly repudiated, but social democracy in Europe and in the US had their own set of racist nationalist assumptions that are being undermined in a global economy demanding just global solutions, not retrograde defenses of the welfare state via anti-immigrant policies.  

The reluctance of even nominally "socialist" parties in Europe to abandon their colonies is the most obvious example of that racism at the heart of the 20th century social democratic project, but it's just as true that the New Deal -- while racially inclusive to a certain extent in the urban North -- specifically excluded black agricultural and domestic workers in the South from its protections.  In a sense, Apartheid in South Africa was just an extreme version of this mentality-- white workers in the country had a wonderful welfare state built on the exploitation and exclusion of blacks in that country from its benefits.

There is a clear nostalgia by Michael Lind for reviving that 20th century social democratic project, but his anti-immigrant attitudes just reflect that there is no going back without reinscribing racism at its base.  And the irony is that the labor movement that was at the base of that old American New Deal has moved beyond Lind's position, embracing immigration and global solidarity with workers in developing countries as the true next step for progressive politics.

Here is John Sweeney, head of the AFL-CIO, on the new internationalism embraced by the modern labor movement:

The discussion about the future of the global economy must not be about softening a backlash, but about embracing a new internationalism - one based on the understanding that trade is an economic tool to meet the ends of development, democracy and a better deal for working people and their families around the globe.
And here is Andy Stern, key leader of the new Change to Win union coalition, on the new global economy:
You're not thinking about a country anymore, but a world. You're not thinking any more about jobs people hold for a lifetime, or jobs that can't be be outsourced or can't have people come to the country and do them instead. The solution is not to go back and try to say we should have closed the borders...So then the question is how do you have global unions when you have global employers? How do you have global institutions that not just protect patents of big corporations, but also make sure that people get their environment protected, people get their wages protected? So we're just not protecting property, we're protecting people. That we globalize rights, not just globalize capitalism and finances.
What is shocking is how really mired in the past the "radical center" is in this country, even as the Left is embracing the real challenges of a new era of globalization.  

And it's not just a pragmatic embrace but a belated recognition that economic justice was always incomplete in the old social democratic framework, since it left behind most of the world's people.  

And want to know something?  We can build surprising coalitions in the US to embrace this new commitment to global justice.  In fact, we've seen it already as religious evangelicals have joined hands with the labor left to demand debt relief for poor countries.  Instead of a coalition built on shared xenophobia, we can instead build a political coalition based on shared ideals of global justice-- backed by the pragmatism that raising global standards is the surest way to protect them here at home.

Posted by Nathan at August 13, 2005 12:47 AM