The Dutch Socialists have half a point

I generally don’t check in with the old Momus to find out something new about politics, but I’ll be damned if that’s not exactly what’s happened here. He points to the Socialist Party of the Netherlands and their excellently named leader Agnes Kant, who have come out against immigration. Now I’ll be the first to admit that Dutch politics often looks a bit topsy-turvy from the outside — Momus mentions the openly gay but rabidly right-wing Pim Fortuyn — but this is definitely an odd case.

Momus sees nothing but cynicism beneath this stance, and on one level it’s hard to argue with him. The SP’s fortunes have apparently improved quite a bit recently, and whether that’s because the Dutch voters are in a particularly socialist mood or just a particularly anti-Muslim one is an open question. All the typically tolerant Northern European countries are experiencing a bit of an anti-immigration backlash, with the green menace on a lot of minds at the moment — so it’s easy to see this as a bit of populist pandering.

I’m not so sure that’s entirely right. For those of us on the leftishly inclined side of the Anglosphere (which here includes both Momus and myself) it’s almost impossible to imagine a coherent anti-immigration stance that’s not on some level racist or xenophobic. But apparently it’s been part of the SP’s plank since the 1980s.

Why? It’s an often overlooked feature (or bug, or whatever) of capitalism that it depends for its efficiency on the free movement not only of capital but of labor as well. The Dutch Socialists quite rightly point out that this is not such a great deal for the workers. Here in the US, you’re more likely to hear the lament of the increasingly redundant American laborer: they’re taking our jobs. What you’re less likely to hear about is the effect on the economic migrants themselves, and on the communities they’re leaving behind when they cross borders in search of higher wages.

Maybe the life of a girl who moves from Krakow to London only to end up cleaning hotel rooms for far below the legal wage is a fulfilling and rewarding one. And certainly the remittances that migrant workers send back to their families are better than nothing. But from Poland’s point of view, sending a generation of young people abroad in search of better economic prospects is not exactly a recipe for local development, much less thriving communities and tight family bonds.

Of course none of this is exactly what the SP is talking about here. They don’t mention decimated Polish communities or fragmented Romanian families. Instead they maintain that freedom of migration is not a right but simply a ploy to supply corporations with cheap labor, and their solution is to “make migration unnecessary” — presumably by working to bring the entire rest of the world up to the Dutch standard of living.

This is where, like Momus, I get skeptical. There are a lot of countries worse off than the Netherlands, and there will be for a very long time, unless, finally, worldwide socialism is just around the corner. It makes some sense to be against economic migration, in the sense where you’re opposed to a global order that forces people to emigrate in order to find good work. But you don’t cure a disease by outlawing the symptoms.

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