Clinton Speaks Up About Immigration and Right Populism

From The Guardian, November 22, 2018:

Clinton was one of three heavyweights of the centre-left interviewed by the Guardian to better understand why their brand of politics appears to be failing. All three have seen their countries upended by political events that to some degree can be explained by the success of rightwing populism. The other two interviewees, Tony Blair and Matteo Renzi, agreed that the migration issue had posed significant problems for centrist politics.

Centrist politics created the immigration problem. For this and other reasons centrist politics poses a significant problem for the working class. It’s hard to imagine how the problem of immigration can be solved by a continuation of politics that created the problem. However, those committed to preserving liberal republicanism and, therefore, the political ground for unifying the national proletariat against their respective bourgeoisie, won’t like the way the right deals with the problem for sure. A center-left awakening to the reality of immigration may be the only source of workable collective power. I cringe writing this, I so loathe Clinton.

If Clinton gets the problem of immigration, then this suggests she gets the problem of globalism, that it’s the policies of the transnational capitalist elite that have fueled right-wing populism in Europe and North America. But those are her politics. The left can’t hide from this problem anymore. When a third of the French population votes for Marie Le Pen that signals that the left has failed on a massive scale. Majorities of French say they no longer feel at home in their own country. Smearing them as “racist” and “xenophobes” isn’t going to substitute for returning to working class politics. Large-scale immigration is not in the interests of the proletariat of western countries. Progressives abandon workers to the political right when they fall in line with neoliberal strategies for extracting more value from labor. And if the right is anything, its opportunistic. For Clinton, this awakening may stem from her anger over being derailed by Trump. She surely recognizes that anti-globalist sentiment was a major source of Trump’s strength among the tens of millions of proletarian workers who voted for the man.

Clinton is no leftist. I get it. But that doesn’t make her wrong about everything. As Sam Harris pointed out in the mid-2000s, the far right understands what’s going on, while the left is busy disempowering itself with identity politics, exchanging the struggle for equality for the optics of diversity. Harris’ diagnosis: “the dogma of multiculturalism has left a secular Europe very slow to address the looming problem of religious extremism among its immigrants.” He noted with appropriate concern the fact that the far right was telling the truth about large-scale immigration from Muslim cultures. “To say that this does not bode well for liberalism is an understatement.” Tough pill to swallow, I know. But if it were false, then the last several decades would yield a different story. It won’t do as an explanation to suggest that the working class is a bunch of bigots who don’t share the humanitarianism of the cultural elite. It’s the cultural elite who are fucking over the working class with austerity and privatization while driving down workers wages through globalization, and that includes immigration. The ruling ideas and all that (read your Marx). And while liberalism isn’t good enough, it may have to be for the time being.

Hitchens was right to characterize Harris’ words as raising the alarm. But it wasn’t only the far right Harris references who got it. Along with Harris and Hitchens, Bruce Bauer, Douglas Murray, and Chris Caldwell got it, too. Had Europe maintained its social democracies, there would be no room for the right. Sweden is a good example of the problem. The rise of the populist Sweden Democrats tracks the vacuum the center-left created by opening its country to unsustainable immigration. Now the country suffers from a slit-labor market, a serious crime problem, attacks on women’s rights and women themselves, a government that lies to its people, and millions of good-hearted Swedes paralyzed by collective guilt over colonialism they never practiced. Not everybody is paralyzed. The Sweden Democrats grew from 5% in 2004 to more than 18% this past September. The main source of that growth? Social Democrats.

The neoliberalism Hillary Clinton has long advanced is not the answer. But there may be some strategic value in a center-left after all – if it is serious about getting a handle on this problem. It will have to couple that with a new dedication to social democracy. And stop the warmongering. However, it may be too late to do anything about it. The apocalyptic forces of right-wing populism and Islam have lives of their own now (I guess they always did, really). The course the West is on – towards a century of political and religious conflict – may not be correctable.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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