Our movement has opposed racism and nationalism – why Paul Embery is wrong

There is a nationalist sickness in our movement…

Paul Embery and his types have been playing the nationalism card very strongly recently, counter posing ‘rootless cosmopolitan middle class people’ with a ‘traditional’ working class – implicitly white. 

(Ignore the ‘666 likes’ on his post, that is only a massive coincidence)

He was joined by Eddie Dempsey, who is also making a big play of being a white and working class and has started to make a career out of playing with some very dangerous politics – accusing some people of allying themselves with ethnic minorities to secure power and using far right tropes about George Soros to attack political opponents – coincidentally very similar to Embery’s recent tweet about ‘rootless cosmopolitians’ – another anti-Semitic slur). Apparently no ‘reasonable person’ could possibly be against more immigration controls and a capitalist state restricting people’s rights or freedoms. 


Embery and Dempsey are great examples of why British trade unions need education programmes for their members, particularly on the history of socialist ideas because the history of socialist parties and their international organisations is not what he describes.

I won’t dwell on it too long but given Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto about ‘workers of the world uniting’ and ‘working people having no country’ – all that exists is the international class struggle played out in different countries but united by the reality of global capitalism and a common fight against the bosses – I’ll just leave this great quote here and move on:

“The Communists are further reproached with desiring to abolish countries and nationality.

The working men have no country. We cannot take from them what they have not got. Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must constitute itself the nation, it is, so far, itself national, though not in the bourgeois sense of the word. National differences and antagonisms between peoples are vanishing gradually from day to day, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to the world market, to uniformity in the mode of production and in the conditions of life corresponding thereto. The supremacy of the proletariat will cause them to vanish still faster. United action, of the leading civilised countries at least, is one of the first conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat.” (Link)

Let’s move onto the Second International (which Labour is a member of alongside the the German SDP, French Socialist Party and so on) which held a Congress in Stuttgart in 1907 where delegates from across the world met and debated politics and agreed motions.

They agreed a motion on immigration which begins: “The immigration and emigration of workers are phenomena that are just as inseparable from the essence of capitalism as unemployment, overproduction and workers’ underconsumption.”

This is an important point, mass immigration is not a ‘new’ feature of capitalism, the working class has always been international, it has always moved around. Who do people think emigrated to the USA? People who think Britain was just full of ‘traditional’ British people until circa Windrush are living a nationalist, racist myth.

The motion goes on: “[This] congress does not seek a remedy to the potentially impending consequences for the workers from immigration and emigration in any economic or political exclusionary rules, because these are fruitless and reactionary by nature. This is particularly true of a restriction on the movement and the exclusion of foreign nationalities or races.” [My emphasis added]

Very good, so socialists don’t focus on fruitless and reactionary immigration controls. Fruitless because immigration will still happen anyway, it will just be illegal and therefore easier to exploit, leaving people in a precarious state hiding from the police and border guards. Who would want to inflict that on other workers? They are reactionary because they foster division in the working class instead of uniting it according to class interests, not nationalist interests.

So what did the Socialist International propose instead?

The Congress recognised that if immigrant labour is being used to drive down living standards by exploitative bosses then “The congress declares it to be the duty of organised labour to resist the depression of its living standards that often occurs in the wake of the mass import of unorganised labour”, the solution proposed was the “Abolition of all restrictions which prevent certain nationalities or races from staying in a country or which exclude them from the social, political and economic rights of the natives or impede them in exercising those rights. Extensive measures to facilitate naturalisation…. unrestricted access of immigrant workers to the trade unions of all countries…facilitating access by setting reasonable admission fees… and striving to establish an international trade union cartel.”

The key demand is on expanding trade unionism – not on closing borders. Indeed the Socialist International even has a demand for better conditions of carriage on steamships for migrant passengers (I guess the equivalent today would be better legroom on a Ryan air flight).

All of this is a million miles away from Embery and Dempsey and their emphasis on immigration controls.

But maybe they like their socialism a little more, Marxist Third International? So let’s look at the resolutions and documents adopted by the Communist International, established by Lenin, Zinoviev and (you might not want to hear this) Trotsky in 1919. What did they say about immigration?

Well the Communist Parties in imperialist countries like USA, Canada and Australia (there was no CP in Britain yet) “must conduct an energetic campaign against laws prohibiting immigration and must explain to the proletarian masses of these countries that such laws, by stirring up race hatred, will in the end bring injury to themselves.”

Furthermore: “The capitalists on the other hand are prepared to dispense with laws against immigration, in order to facilitate the free entry of cheap coloured labour power and thus lower the wages of white workers. Their intentions can only be successfully frustrated by one thing—the immigrant workers must be enrolled in the existing trade unions of white workers. At the same time the demand must be made that the wages of coloured workers must be raised to the level of the wages of white workers. Such a step by the communist parties will expose the intentions of the capitalists and at the same time clearly show the coloured workers that the international proletariat knows no race prejudice.” (Link p. 392)  Foreign workers should be on higher wages and in trade unions – nothing about immigration controls or stricter borders. 

Read the resolution produced in 1922 on The Black Question and the importance of integrating BAME workers into the trade unions and struggles of their white counter parts, and the importance of international solidarity with the struggles of racially oppressed people against capitalism. (Link). The entire orientation and spirit of socialism when it was a mass force was for international solidarity and integration of foreign workers at every level of the class struggle in whatever country, not barbed wire, passport checks and deportations. Consider the spirit of the motion on the national question, that socialists “demand the expulsion of… imperialists from the colonies, inculcate in the hearts of the workers of its own country an attitude of true brotherhood with the working population of the colonies and the oppressed nations, and conduct systematic agitation among the armed forces against all oppression of the colonial peoples.” (Link) I am sure Dempsey – who used to be a member of the Communist Party like Lenin. Perhaps he hasn’t read about what Lenin wrote on immigration? When considering the development of imperialism and the evolution of nations as a result of changes in capitalism he argued that “only reactionaries can shut their eyes to the progressive significance of this modern migration of nations”. Lenin praised the workers of Russia who were “more than any others bursting out of this state of backwardness and barbarism, more than any others combating these “delightful” features of their native land, and more closely than any others uniting with the workers of all countries into a single international force for emancipation.” He concluded that; “The bourgeoisie incites the workers of one nation against those of another in the endeavour to keep them disunited”. It is worth pointing out here that sadly the workers’ movement has also had its share of people who insidiously infect workers with bourgeois thinking around nationalism and racism. Lenin goes on; “Class-conscious workers, realising that the break-down of all the national barriers by capitalism is inevitable and progressive, are trying to help to enlighten and organise their fellow-workers from the backward countries.” (Link)

So when Embery and Dempsey talk about ‘most socialists’ backing nationalist border controls and dividing workers along national – and inevitably ethnic – lines, what socialists are they talking about? They are basing their politics on post-war social democracy, the collapse of socialism into national considerations, into increasingly focussing not on international solidarity and socialism but on relying on parliamentary (and therefore national) routes to socialism.

The people that supported border controls were not the revolutionaries or the radical socialists but social democrats of Wilson’s government, blocking black and Asian people from coming to Britain. They are not starting from the principle that ‘workers of the world unite’ or ‘workers have no country’, they start from the reactionary belief that immigrants drive down wages and therefore the response is to drive out immigrants. 

Embery and Dempsey might like to think they are representatives of the ‘traditional working class’, the ‘man on the Clapham Omnibus’ of yesteryear, sticking up for white working class people against these middle class affectations about being pro-migrant.  They can think that all they want. But it is not socialism. It is nationalist politics, insidiously posing as class struggle. 

If we want socialism – and I sincerely hope we do – these ideas must be root and branch challenged and exposed as the language of division that will only embolden the far right and lead our movement to bitter defeat.

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Simon H

Writer, socialist, bit part player in the end of the world drama

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