In 1779, an artisan named Ned Ludd is supposed to have smashed stocking frames he believed undermined his craft. Ludd becomes the inspiration of British textile workers and weavers who see their livelihoods being undermined by knitting frames and mechanized looms. Almost a hundred years later, in 1870, Karl Marx observes that the English bourgeoisie imported cheap Irish labor to England to undermine wages and morale and disrupt solidarity of English proletarians. Marx observes that globalization and cheap immigrant labor is the capitalists’ secret weapon in maintaining class hegemony. Yet there are those claiming to be “on the left” who condemn “luddites” and “nativists,” rejecting creative endeavors and eschewing class struggling while rioting for a world where the worth of each human shall be determined not by his individual personality but by the color of his skin. They have become destructive force laboring (many unwittingly) for corporate power.
What are the consequences of the first development? If pushed far enough the system will crash, as Ernest Mandel noted in his 1967 An Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory. Automated systems (robots and the like—Fordism, Taylorism) don’t buy things. By replacing flesh-and-blood workers, they reduce effective demand. Rising organic composition of capital (OCC) thus renders labor redundant, increasing unemployment, reducing effective demand, preparing a realization crisis, where there are more commodities than customers and the economy contracts in its wake (see Late Capitalism). At least with immigrants the economy enjoys consumers. But then it doesn’t have much of a national culture or potential for worker solidarity. Moreover, immigration drives down wages and standards of living across the occupational structure, as well as disrupts neighborhoods and burdens public infrastructure and services.
Thus the immigration question is as important as the rising OCC problem in capitalism. I have written about this rather extensively on this blog, Freedom and Reason: A Path Through Law Capitalism (I make references to some of my writings throughout the essay). In the present essay, I focus on Marx’s understanding of the problem in the context of British imperialism because New Left ideology distorts this history and Marx’s arguments. For example, when Marx ponders restrictions or amnesty in the Irish immigration question, amnesty is the narrow political question. Marx has something more grand in mind: Irish self-government (i.e. Irish nationalism)—that is independence from England with agrarian land reform, returning the land to the Irish farmer, and ending the source of the surplus people exploited by the English bourgeoisie to hammer the English proletariat. He also argues for protective tariffs against the British government. It’s all very obviously nationalist politics. One can disagree with Marx, of course, but one should not twist the argument in order to preserve an appeal to the power of Marxian thought.
The tenor of Marx’s favored points clearly issue from his critical political economic standpoint. We know from the evidence of history that immigration restrictions are highly beneficial not only for employment and wages for native born but also for class solidarity and political organizing. United States history testifies to this (see The Immigration Situation). This is why Marx and Engels argue that the class struggle—as Marxists should today—is a nationalist struggle. This is not a matter of interpretation. The distortion I am critiquing is a matter of the New Left overthrowing Marxism in favor of Third Worldism. The problem is neo-Marxism. Marx is explicit in saying that it is immigration that undermines English working class solidarity.
Readers should not misunderstand. Marx’s politics are obviously not an expression of bourgeois nationalism, what we today call “multiculturalism.” He explicitly condemns bourgeois nationalist politics as divisive. “This antagonism is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organization,” Marx writes. “It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And the latter is quite aware of this.” Rather, his vision is proletarians wresting power from the national bourgeoisie and establishing worker states. Indeed, his hope is that Irish nationalism will spark a string of revolutionary moments across the nation-states of Europe. He is hopeful that the Civil War in the United States, in unifying America, will do the same (unfortunately, the ramping up of mass immigration in the post-war period stalled out that possibility in the United States).
It is Marx’s belief that restricting immigration through delinking national economies will permit the development of both Irish and English working class consciousness. In 1870, he argues that “the decisive blow against the English ruling classes (and it will be decisive for the workers’ movement all over the world) cannot be delivered in England but only in Ireland.” Marx regarded as the most serious issues the fact that “Ireland constantly sends her own surplus to the English labour market, and thus forces down wages and lowers the material and moral position of the English working class.” As a consequence, “every industrial and commercial centre in England now possesses a working class divided into two hostile camps, English proletarians and Irish proletarians.” This is not a subtle analysis.
It is well understood by objective observers that immigration is a tool capitalist use to undermine wages and consciousness. This is also popularly understood. Immigration restrictions in the United States in the late-19th and early-20th centuries were driven by rank-and-file workers over the objection of cosmopolitan urban elites pushing multiculturalism and their own labor leaders pushing crude internationalism (see The Need for Limits). The charge of “nativism” was a pejorative to delegitimize the left populist movements against immigration (see Smearing Labor as Racist: The Globalist Project to Discredit the Working Class). It still is. The cultural left is making the charge today, throwing in “racism” and “xenophobia” for good measure (see Secularism, Nationalism, and Nativism). Admittedly, shameless self-attacking by members of the working class is a spectacular propaganda achievement.
The analysis presented here is hardly novel. For example, in a 1983 article by Ellen Hazelkorn in Saothar, a peer-reviewed journal published by the Irish Labor History Society (as many of my readers will know, Marx’s arguments are very important to left-wing nationalism in Ireland and, obviously, to the enterprise of Irish Marxism), the following summary of Marx’s argument is made: “Independence, Marx argues, would have a dynamic impact on capitalist expansion in England. By destroying the economic links between the two islands, it would force the development of an indigenous and self-reliant capitalist economy in Ireland while simultaneously depriving English capital of a vital source of labour, capital and markets.” Marx wanted to deprive the English capitalist of access to cheap Irish labor, as he believed this was a major reason for the strength of capitalism in England. He wanted the withdrawal of the English from Ireland which he believed would trigger an agrarian revolution.
Marx was anti-globalist. He and Engels make it very clear in the Communist Manifesto that the struggle for socialism occurs in the national context—republican political and legal machinery must be preserved in order to build the worker state. Without juridical, legal, and political machinery, there are no levers to pull against global capitalism. Moreover, Marx and Engels were aware of the conditions necessary for worker solidarity. They operate in the framework of nation-states, including nation in the ethnic sense (common language, common culture, common law, etc.), which carries a powerful detribalizing force, producing individuals who are incorporated into a national ethos. Via the development of the nation-state, capitalism forges the national proletariat and gives rise to its collective consciousness. Globalism and multiculturalism are strategies used to undermine proletarian consciousness and undermine democratic-republican machinery, which corporations in a transnational system no longer need. Globalization is an inevitable feature of world human development. Globalism is a political-ideological strategy used by big capital.
Marx is a democratic-republican. This standpoint holds that government should be in charge, not capitalist firms. The problem is that the working class is not in charge of the government, not that government is the problem. It follows that Marx wants Ireland to have an independent nation in order to develop consciousness and struggle for socialism and not have Irish workers disrupting the development of socialist consciousness among English proletarians. But that’s not the argument coming from the New Left—who are folded into progressivism in late capitalism. They argue for open borders to wash out nationalist and republican commitments, which in turn strengthens corporate power over against the world class everywhere. Academic elites have been quite successful in coopting the emancipatory language of Marxism to undermine the development of socialist consciousness via multiculturalism. The fashionable theory of intersectionality has replaced class analysis with this result: the left has become regressive and even reactionary. (See Corporations Own the Left. Black Lives Matter Proves it; What’s Really Going On with #BlackLivesMatter; Dividing Americans by Race to Keep America From Democracy;
From where does this corruption of Marxian thought hail? This is the infantilism of Third Worldism, the ham-handed interpretation of Marx in light of New Left ideology, an amalgam of Mao Zedong and postmodernist thought. The current crop of New Left types seem unaware of the fact that Marx and Engels argue in their most famous work that ”the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself the nation.” The revolutionary program in the Communist Manifesto argues for the establishment of a national bank. Hard to do without a nation! Revolutionary politics from Marx and Engels’ standpoint requires the organization of diverse groups into a national proletariat for “one national struggle between classes.” Marx and Engels contend that “the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must rise to be the leading class of the nation.” Which is why they stress that “the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle. The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie.”
I suppose all this is too obvious. The New Left types need to twist Marxist thought to fit their identitarian narrative. The new story is that Marx and Engels are all about race consciousness not class struggle (ironically, this is the same interpretation of Marx and Engels as that presented by Jordan Peterson). Warped by Third Worldism, the attitude becomes authoritarian and destructive. Cultural revolution, not a proletarian revolution. Knee-jerk illiberalism, not socialist consciousness. The point of socialist revolution is to realize humanist and liberal values for everyone, but so-called revolutionaries in the West today seek to tear down humanist and liberal culture. Look around at the results of illiberal thinking. See China. See the city streets of major cities in the West.