Between Nationalism and Moralism: Immigration and the Limits of Social Democracy

Alexander Prähauser

August 25, 2022

Right now, a deep split is running through the ostensibly socialist left along lines of the culture war. One of its incarnations is in the question of “open borders,” with one side represented by conservative social democrats and nationalists such as Angela Nagle, Catherine Liu, and Sahra Wagenknecht, and the other by anarchists and non-Stalinist communists, such as Noam Chomsky, Nathan J. Robinson, and Adrian Rennix. There seems to be no middle ground or even basis for dialogue between the sides. Indeed, any discussion on the topic is undermined from the start by the argument that to even contemplate the question “endangers refugees.” This is clearly insufficient, given that the idea of open borders is extremely unpopular with the general public.

However, an impromptu debate came up on the topic as part of a discussion between C. Derick Varn and Kuba Wrzesniewski about Alexander Dugin on the This is Revolution podcast. It is a sad statement that this is one of the only good faith exchanges on the topic taking up any practical considerations relating to the issue.

Wrzesniewski’s argument was, roughly speaking, as follows: The working class will not accept open borders, so, if socialism is ever to have a chance of succeeding, “it needs to have some response on immigration other than [open borders].” Varn’s counterargument was that an acceptance of immigration restrictions would also serve to reinforce nation-states, which “aren’t viable. . . without excacerbat[ing] the need for refugees to move.”[1]

The View from Europe

Of course, intense debates pertaining to immigration are not restricted to the United States. It has also a hot-button issue throughout the world. In Austria, for instance, it has repeatedly served to ensure the success of anti-immigration conservative and right-wing populists. Significantly, on the left, only the Communist Party holds a pro-open-border position. Its position on immigration consists of five points: voting rights for everybody who has lived in Austria for more than a year, annulment of all discriminatory practices in the jobs market, safe flight routes to Europe, and legalization of all people living in Austria. The social democratic “Socialist Party of Austria” SPÖ is split. On one side, there is an energetic and youthful base that generally favors open borders and, on the other, an establishment that opposes them for reasons both of practicality and of publicity, and so tries to avoid the issue,