Internationalism means a lot to the Labour Party. It’s our solidarity beyond borders, socialism without borders, and an expression of unity and togetherness with other people in similar situations. It means a lot, but what exactly it looks like in terms of policy is a little unclear.
To some within Labour it means resisting imperialism by opposing wars and keeping borders open. To others it means proactively supporting the self-determination of other people. But lately the Labour Party is beginning to look less internationalist and simply more inward, trapped within the debates of the twentieth century that encircled globalisation, wars and imperialism.
There has been a lot of furore (and rightly so) over Labour’s silence regarding the protests in Iran where a swirling mix of working-class resentment and feminist anger has sparked an uprising against an undemocratic ruling class.
There’s also questions to be had over just how far, or at all, Labour are prepared to condemn regressive regimes that do not fall within the American sphere of interest and control. The answer so far is worryingly little.
And then there are the more recent debates, centred round Brexit, that have a touch of dishonesty to them. One of these debates is over whether Labour should discard Freedom of Movement (FoM), an argument emanating mostly from those who strongly support Jeremy Corbyn.
The issue here is not just what Labour decide is their policy on FoM — it’s also about the language and symbolism of the debate. How you do it and what the party says does matter. What does it say when Britain’s most progressive party agrees with the right-wing myth that migrant labour is a significant wage depression?Though some will rightly point to some sectors where wages can be undercut by abusing the foreign labour market, it does not define what happens overall.
So far though the strongest line of reasoning amongst some Labour activists is that the Freedom of Movement wrongly favours EU countries over the rest of the world. They regard it as misguided internationalism but the irony is really in their arguments.
Freedom of Movement did not hinder people like my family from moving from countries like India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Iraq or Brazil. It did not create a culture of discrimination against us but was rather seen as part of a wider culture of tolerance and inclusivity a country formerly known for imperial arrogance was trying to move to.
In this conversation, voices of migrants and minorities have been unheard, taken up by mostly white men on the left. Had this argument included a more diverse range of voices, it might not have taken place. The idea that life for BAME migrants will be better as soon as there are fewer Eastern Europeans is absurd.
The left here are reviving the Lexit argument, the absurd theory that socialists could somehow have co-opted a fascist and xenophobic Brexit argument for their own ends. It resulted in nothing but the marginalisation of people in this country who look and sound different. When this is put forward to some leftists who voted Leave, they maintain the EU is a racist and imperialist institution.
There is a real concern that some in Labour simply do not genuinely understand how racism works, on a sociological and psychological level. Yes many BAME voters ticked Leave but many did so for the reason that they may be spared the racism if it was directed elsewhere. But most regarded Leave for what it was: a vote riddled in xenophobia.
Brexit has marginalised minorities and empowered the far-right with a sense of legitimacy and relevance not seen since the seventies. This is what the FoM represents and trying to end it using other migrants as a justification is simply perverse.
Those in favour of ending the FoM can correctly say that they are simply respecting the result of the referendum but they are being highly dishonest or deluded if they think they can end FoM and still maintain an open-door policy. Right now Labour’s internationalism feels superficial and not at all sincere.