Cassian Siminicianu puts forward an unconventional critique of economic immigration under Capitalism.
Immigration. Such a divisive topic it is in this day and age. Particularly over the last decade, the debate over its place and role in our societies across the Western, developed world has created a deep and irreconcilable chasm in British and larger European politics. It has given rise to the most expansive explosion in those most dreadful and most exhausting of reactionary politics - the rise of various Nationalist parties across the European continent, like a looming spectre of an unforgotten past.
Immigration has naturally taken over as a topic of discussion; after all, we have universally seen its steady rise, over the last few decades especially. But why is that?
One could go into specific historical accounts of the Windrush generation in Britain, of post-war Turkish immigration to Germany or of Algerian immigration to France in the same time period but I find this redundant. I believe these initial post-war waves of economic immigration (as well as those following them) to only be , rather than some great change in attitude towards welcoming people from more exotic places, the simple reality of the changing conditions of post-war Capital.
Prior to the Second World War, Europe’s industrialists could rely on the abundant supply of labour facilitated by the simple reality of the relatively high birth rates most countries naturally had. The mighty workshops of the continent’s empires were powered by the sweat and toil of millions upon millions of an able-bodied, young, overworked and largely male population: a population of which was not lacking in supply. This presumption of a perpetually young and numerous pool of domestic labour is what powered the economies of Europe and the world for that matter. Why would you, as an industrialist, import labour from abroad when you have more than enough domestically after all?
The slaughter of the Second World War was the first crack in that presumption. Though the post-war birth rate spiked into the now famous ‘Baby Boom’, the reality was that tens of millions of mostly young and able-bodied men and women had just lost their lives in the greatest bloodbath humanity had seen in its history. The labour pool greatly diminished. Followed by that, the helpless collapse in the birthrate starting from the mid-1960s, most dramatically in the 1970s: here came the destruction of that young and numerous labouring Europe. But, as we know, the economy still has to endlessly expand, wages still have to be kept miserably low. Perhaps Britain was no longer to be the world’s workshop, but it could now at least revert back to its primary role in being the world’s financial gateway and port: “Singapore-on-Thames!” still shout the Tory torch-bearers of this idea. This still required labour.
Capital now had to import labour. After all, how can Babylon run if not by opening its gates to various workmen and merchants. Britain, along with most of the rest of Europe, was now committed to a regime which is dressed up by many in cultural or civilizational terms. Whether, at the extreme end, this be the Far-Right fear mongering about an ‘invasion’ of Europe by some alien civilisation - the imagined enemy of some deranged subconscious - or at the moderate end in Tony Blair’s eagerness to embrace immigration because ‘immigrants like our culture and this shows what a great country Britain is’ (as if the cause for anyone’s immigration to Britain was an uncontrollable love for tea and biscuits).
But then the actual reality is simple, isn’t it? People come to Britain, or any other country, because they want to raise their standard of living. They want to earn more money, live better lives. Capital also wants to perpetually expand. Isn’t this a win-win situation? What could possibly be wrong with this?
Innately, there is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking a better standard of life. There is also nothing wrong with economic growth. But perhaps things aren’t that simple. Perhaps there is more to the immigrant reality and the immigrant experience than initially thought.
As the son of economic immigrants myself I have had the experience of just living amongst people who came to this country for that purpose. Depression rates are typically high, it’s hard living far away from family and friends, home. The bulk of the labour quota do simple and low-paid, often even legally underpaid, jobs. The conditions are quite far from ideal, not that anyone can complain. In these workplaces unionisation rates are even lower than for the rest of Britain’s populace, some even lack a knowledge of the English language. How could these people possibly defend themselves against exploitation or even outright abuse by employers?
They can’t. That is the whole point, in fact. The present form of Capitalism has created for itself a much needed class of people which can simply be exploited, used, and when they are no longer useful discarded away; this is no different from what it did and still does to the native workers occupying the same role. Capital takes away the youngest, strongest, smartest and most able of the global south, it uses them to the point of their exhaustion and demise, then it asks for more. Those places are also deprived of the key people needed to grow their own economies. The nature of immigration under Capitalism can be compared to a bloodthirsty monster devouring humanity, nourished by its best specimens.
The Capitalist society then metaphorically becomes Babylon (“Singapore- on-Thames would fit just as well), it is the acquisitive, sinful and abominating city, an unhappy city in which the different peoples of the world are forced into a limbo-esque toil. It consumes everyone within it and seeks to do the same to everyone outside of it too.
My alternative therefore becomes Jerusalem. Jerusalem being the city in which the world’s faithful from all cultures and nations congregate in prayer and joy. Jerusalem has always been important to the Labour movement and particularly to me. We must build a New Jerusalem. Just as in Blake’s poem, I wish to see an England and a Britain in which all can live in peace in England’s pleasant pastures and her pleasant land, a land unadulterated by any kind of exploitation or injustice. A Britain which is actively committed, not to stealing away the developing world’s best, but to doing its very best in uplifting it. Till we have built Jerusalem.
Cassian Siminicianu is a Young Fabian keen on shining a light on things we all face but no one speaks about. He shares his views and impressions on his Twitter at @Cassian_Sav.
Cover photo from Dr. Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin, accessed via Wikimedia.