Monday, 20 June 2016

A Reply To Paul Mason on Remain and Free Movement

The following is a response I wrote recently to Paul Mason to a post he had written on Mosquito Ridge. Paul who has previously said that he thinks that the philosophical argument of Brexit wins, but that he believes in current conditions its best to vote to Remain, because Brexit would mean the coming to power of a reactionary regime in Britain, that would be bad for British workers. As I've written before, this approach, also taken by some members of the Labour Party, of starting from what is good for Britain, or even good for British workers, is necessarily nationalistic.

As with the same issue in relation to the 2014 Scottish referendum, it starts from an assumption that workers in one country have different interests to those of workers in other countries, which then can be better furthered, by lining up behind their own nation state, and ruling class. In fact, the interests of workers in one country are inseparable from the interests of workers in other countries, and for Marxists the starting point is that, and building a programme, and undertaking activity to break down borders, and to forge such international unity. As I have written many times in the past, that is the position Trotsky took in relation to the question of the United States of Europe, and in the Programme for Peace, for example.

Paul ends up here, desperate for a Remain vote, however, and ends up losing sight of the real reason for opposing leaving the EU, which is to forge that unity with European workers. The result is that, he argues for assuaging the reactionary views of a section of the electorate in relation to immigration, by calling for consideration of limitations on free movement and so on. If that were the price of remaining it would be too great. The fact remains that the referendum is just a vote. Whatever the result, on Friday, workers in Britain, as in other parts of Europe will still have the task of building that unity, and fighting for a different kind of Europe. British workers if they vote to Leave will have made that more difficult for themselves, and in part cut themselves off from that forward movement. I am strongly in favour of Remain for that reason, but Remain or Leave, the fight goes on, to paraphrase the slogan that Marxists adopted in the 1960's.


Labour should not make concessions on free movement and migration. Its not migrants that are the problem, but British capitalism, and immediately the Tory administration of it, particularly the crazy application of austerity.

Yes, if the population rises that means additional demand for goods and services, including education and healthcare, but that applies whether the population rises due to increased births over deaths, or immigration. What would you propose if the increased demand for those goods and services was down to people having larger families, a Chinese style, one child policy, or some Malthusian warning that workers will just have to starve because production only increases arithmetically whilst population rises geometrically?

Marx, and James Anderson showed long, long ago that this Malthusian argument is wrong. Increases in population drive increases in production, and because increased production takes place on the basis of economies of scale, it is more effective, more profitable production that facilitates increased capital accumulation and growth. We shouldn’t still need to be having these arguments that were settled a long time ago.

In fact, an increased population due to migration has considerable benefits over an increased population from an increased live birth rate. Generally speaking, new workers that are born cannot add any production into the economy for the first 15–16 years of their lives, and so are an absolute drain on the economy for that time. Migrants are usually young, healthy and able to start adding production to the economy straight away. Yes, they take value out of the economy in the form of various commodities, including healthcare, but because capital only employs labour if it creates a surplus value, the value these workers newly create by their labour is greater than what they take out.

As a consequence the surplus value these migrant workers produce is available to be accumulated by capital from the profits it receives, to be used to cover pensions and other revenues from the interest that money-capitalists obtain out of the profits of those companies, and to be used to cover government expenditure on the provision of schools, hospitals and so on, out of the taxes that the government levies on those profits.

As with any other worker, migrant workers are not a drain on resources but a net provider of resources. In fact, they are a larger net provider of resources than home grown workers.

There is only a point in winning this referendum if it is won on the basis of offering a socialist solution to workers problems. The socialist case for staying in Europe has never been about staying in for staying in’s sake, or any misguided notion that the EU is good in itself. The socialist case for staying in Europe, is that it facilitates unity and solidarity, and collective action by European workers themselves. If the cost of winning the referendum is that we abandon the latter, by accepting all the Tory arguments over migration, and driving a wedge between workers across the EU, by blaming them for what immediately is the crisis created by conservatism, that cost is too great.

Its not migrants demand for housing, healthcare and education that is responsible for the crisis in UK public services, but the austerity measures of the Tories. Migrants are providing the profits, interest and taxes to fund those services, so where are the Tories spending that money?

I am strongly in favour of Remain, but only as the best basis of building unity of workers across Europe to create a different kind of Europe. In the end, whether the vote is to Remain or Leave, the fight against capitalism goes on. We should not diminish the fight against capitalism and the need to build the unity of a European working-class simply to win an ephemeral vote, on the basis of pandering to the reactionary, and bigoted views of a section of the working-class. Our task is to challenge and to change those views, not to collapse into them ourselves.

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