A Stranger in Europe

I feel like a stranger in the world, especially Europe. Over the past week or two I have travelled across Europe, from east to northwest, and stayed in different places. It is turning out to be intimately familiar and disconcertingly strange.

Why? After some discussion, it seems as though these are some of the features.

Everywhere it seems as though people are obsessed about refugees and immigrants, no matter what the political persuasion. It is not merely the right-wing groups and parties who make this an issue: nearly everyone seems to feel it is the main problem facing Europe today. But if we take a Marxist approach, then the concern with migrants is a diversion, if not a symptom of the main problem: economics and class.

So let me use this lens to interpret what I see and hear:

  1. A major plank of EU economic policy is a ‘free labour market’. What this really means is that people seeking work from poorer countries will drive down incomes and conditions of those in the richer countries. In other words, the migrant labour situation is standard EU policy. This situation creates the scene for a number of responses:
  2. The recasting of this policy in light of the strange framework of a scarcity of jobs: with limited jobs in the richer countries, the increasing number of migrants seeking work means greater unemployment, crime and so on. Very strange: if workers in the richer countries were prepared to take jobs with lower pay and less conditions, wherever such a job might be, they would still have work – in line with EU policy.
  3. The narrative of the various ‘right-wing’ parties is that migrants from the Middle East are taking jobs.
  4. The narrative of the social-democratic parties is that cheaper labourers from eastern Europe are taking jobs and social welfare.
  5. Speaking of social welfare, the implicit xenophobia of the welfare state reveals its face. Such welfare is only for the deserving within a state, not for the EU as a whole, or indeed wider.
  6. And those who see themselves as middle-class progressives can now blame the workers for being racist and reactionary.
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7 thoughts on “A Stranger in Europe

  1. I think Paul Mason was thinking along similar lines here: “The “traditional working class” knows all too well how virulent Ukip xenophobia is: Labour and trade union members spend hours at the pub and in the workplace and on the doorstep arguing against it.
    All over Britain, the labour movement is a line, drawn through working-class communities, which says that migrants are not to blame for poor housing, education, low pay and dislocated communities. For the first time in a generation Labour has a leader prepared to say who is to blame: the neoliberal elite and their addiction to privatisation, austerity and low wages.
    It was the elite’s insouciance over the negative impacts of EU migration on the lowest-skilled, together with their determination to suppress class politics inside Labour, that helped get us into this mess””
    http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2016/10/paul-mason-how-left-should-respond-brexit

      1. I’m curious, what should the left’s response or position on this be? What is China’s position or that of other respectable Marxist-Leninist parties?

        The few, fractious Marxist parties in the US of a few hundred lost souls seem to think that all refugees should be allowed in without any due process and without any concern for the impact this will have on the native population; right or wrong, simply allowing hundreds of thousands of brown people into the country will inflame the right and play right into the hands of the capitalist elites. The left must promote proletarian internationalism and fight xenophobia while also coming up with a plan to provide material aid and support to refugees that does not necessarily include allowing “open borders” or an “open door” policy that will practically guarantee a huge right-wing backlash.

        Another thought I had is: How many of these refugees are working class, especially the ones making the long journey by air to the US? What is their class status? While xenophobia and white supremacy must be countered, do bourgeois refugees deserve our total and unqualified support? While I can’t really blame them and I am not without sympathy, it seems the bourgeoisie are very quick to flee their country for one reason or another, while the proles, even if they want to leave, simply can’t.

      2. The first step would be to make the point consistently that the situation in Europe is a direct result of the policy of the ‘free labour market’, in terms of driving down wages and conditions for workers in the richer parts of the EU (to be added here is the deliberate policy of deindustrialisation in eastern Europe, so as to create a large pool of unemployed and itinerant workers). Second, the focus on immigrants is a diversion from the core economic and class issues. Third, in that light the battle should be against the ‘free labour market’ policy. And, fourth, it should focus on ensuring fair working conditions across all countries.

        That said, I am not a fan of the EU, given the very purpose of this construction.

  2. Sadly, Europeans seem to be largely the same wherever you find them, whether in Europe, North America or elsewhere. Living in the US, what I resent is all the bourgeois Eurotrash that seem to be flooding in, not the proletarian Hispanics coming from the south.

  3. It seems like the real working class can do nothing right these days. When they rebel against the EU, they are smeared as racists. But when they do nothing, and fail to engage in politics, they are called ‘apathetic’.
    The whole concept of a united Europe was flawed from the outset. Why do western pundits happily accept the break up of countries like the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, calling them ‘unworkable’, yet at the same time expect a ‘united’ Europe to be something to encourage?
    I think I know the answer.
    Best wishes, Pete/

    1. For some reason, the push to include more eastern European countries in the EU (and NATO) has echoes of the effort by the UK, France et al to get Hitler to turn his attention eastward. They felt that Hitler would be a good weapon against eastern ‘aggression’.

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