Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Old Left and Mass Immigration

The Old Left – before the 1960s New Left and post-1980s Postmodernist Left – was, generally speaking, strongly opposed to mass immigration, and for good reasons. The modern Left has forgotten this, and it is a terrible shame that many modern Leftists cannot take lessons from the past.

But some good work is available. See Ha-Joon Chang in his book 23 Things they Don’t Tell you about Capitalism (Bloomsbury Press, London, 2011), and Dean Baker’s The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer (Washington, DC., 2006), pp. 23–25.

Or take Bob Rowthorn, a left heterodox economist and former Marxist, whose work on mass immigration continues, broadly speaking, the Old Left critique of open borders and mass immigration.

There is a good summary of his views here.

Or see his comments at the end of this video:

Detailed and very good work by Bob Rowthorn on this issue is here:
Rowthorn, R. 2003. “Migration Limits,” Prospect Magazine (February 20).

Rowthorn, R. 2006. “Cherry-Picking: A Dubious Practice,” Around the Globe 3.2: 17–23. Institute for the Study of Global Movements, University of Monash.;dn=310269958414577;res=IELHSS

Rowthorn, R. E. 2008. “The Fiscal Impact of Immigration on the Advanced Economies,” Oxford Review of Economic Policy 24.3: 560–580.

Rowthorn, Robert. 2014. “Large-Scale Immigration: Its Economic and Demographic Consequences,” CIVITAS: Institute for the Study of Civil Society, London, August.

Rowthorn, Robert. 2015. “The Costs and Benefits of Large-Scale Immigration: Exploring the Economic and Demographic Consequences for the UK,” Civitas, December
I think Bob Rowthorn’s criticisms of mass immigration from a left-wing perspective would have been understood immediately and clearly by somebody from the Old Left, which also opposed this on economic, social and cultural grounds.

Take the American socialist Left of the early 20th century.

At the famous Socialist Congress in Chicago of 1910, American socialists adopted the following resolution:
“The Socialist party of the United States favors all legislative measures tending to prevent the immigration of strike breakers and contract laborers, and the mass importation of workers from foreign countries, brought about by the employing classes for the purpose of weakening the organization of American labor and of lowering the standard of life of the American workers.” (Carlton 1911: 352).
Earlier in 19th century America, US capitalists imposed a brutal system of near slave labour by importing Chinese immigrants (or “Coolies”) to exploit them for low wages under viciously exploitative conditions (see here and here).

Such indentured workers and their near slave-labour drove down wages for domestic American workers and caused competition for scarce jobs. This provoked an angry working class political movement, including, for example, the activism of the US labour leader Denis Kearney who organised the Workingmen’s Party of California in 1877, whose program included opposition to mass immigration (see also Fine and Tichenor 2009).

Similar socialist and left-wing hostility to mass immigration occurred in Canada (see here), Australia (Quinlan and Lever-Tracy 1990) and New Zealand too.

But today the cultural left is pathetically unaware that mass immigration has been one of the most vicious weapons of class war used by big business and big capital against the wages, working conditions, job prospects and social cohesion of the working class and society at large.

Baker, Dean. 2006. The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer. Center for Economic and Policy Research, Washington, DC.

Carlton, Frank Tracy. 1911. The History and Problems of Organized Labor. D.C. Heath, Boston.

Chang, Ha-Joon. 2011. 23 Things they Don’t Tell you about Capitalism. Bloomsbury Press, London.

Fine, Janice and Daniel Tichenor. 2009. “A Movement Wrestling: American Labor’s Enduring Struggle with Immigration, 1866–2007,” Studies in American Political Development 23.1: 84–113.

Quinlan, Michael and Constance Lever-Tracy. 1990. “From Labour Market Exclusion to Industrial Solidarity: Australian Trade Union Responses to Asian Workers, 1830–1988,” Cambridge Journal of Economics 14.2: 159–181.


  1. "The modern Left has forgotten this, and it is a terrible shame that many modern Leftists cannot take lessons from the past."
    “But this is evasion and deception. The mass immigration of the past decade wasn’t caused just by the absence of transitional controls on new EU member states. It was the result of a policy of encouraging immigration to generate economic growth – a policy NuLab copied from Bill Clinton’s America. In a
    speech about the policy, then Home Office minister Barbara Roche said:
    ‘The evidence shows that economically driven migration can bring substantial overall benefits both for growth and the economy. In the United States, as Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has commented, the huge recent inflow of migrants – 11 million in the 1990s – has been key to sustaining America’s longest-ever economic boom.’”

  2. "the cake has to be shared amongst so many more people"

    but thats not the case for the government, the government's slice gets bigger regardless.

  3. Cesar Chavez, the Mexican-American co-founder of the United Farm Workers union, was also opposed to open borders on the grounds that the illegal immigrants were strikebreaker labor. Of course, modern regressive Leftists are trying to distort Chavez’s legacy and make him into some kind of identity politician when in reality he was a solid Old Left-style union leader.


    So it is clear that the opposition to open borders is not just the province of white racists as the regressive Left likes to claim. In racially diverse countries opposition to immigration should be stated primarily in economic terms to try to avoid the accusation of racism from the regressive Left. This is the big problem with Donald Trump. Trump alienated too many people with some of his more caustic comments on Mexicans, for example.

    Bernie Sanders, I think, had a better approach to the immigration issue by keeping things about economics and avoiding language that would alienate non-whites. Unfortunately, the American media still tried to paint Bernie and his followers as racist, sexist misogynists with the “Bernie Bro” meme.

    1. You are 100 percent correct about Chavez and Bernie. Unfortunately, pointing out these facts invariably brings out the cries of racism and misogyny.

  4. "Unfortunately, the American media still tried to paint Bernie and his followers as racist, sexist misogynists with the “Bernie Bro” meme."

    Yes indeed they did.

  5. LK.
    did you read this? saw it on reddit.

    sounds like a lot of what youre saying. do you disagree?