Workers Hammer No. 244
Down with EU bosses cartel!
Immigration and racist Fortress Europe
Full citizenship rights for all immigrants!
The following is an edited version of a Spartacist League forum given by Kate Klein in London on 3 November 2018. As we go to press, a parliamentary vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, which represents an attempt to have as little Brexit as possible, is scheduled for mid-January. As we anticipated at the time of the 2016 referendum, the Brexit vote has weakened and discredited the Tory government. Jeremy Corbyn, who campaigned to remain when it counted, continues to pander to the European Union — a betrayal that has allowed UKIP and Tommy Robinson’s supporters to take the mantle of opposition to the EU. The situation cries out for an organised, anti-racist, working-class expression of opposition to the EU.
In late October we saw a march in London of reportedly 700,000 people, many draped in EU flags, against Britain exiting the European Union. It was organised by the People’s Vote, ostensibly campaigning for a vote on the “terms” of Brexit but actually intent on overturning the 2016 referendum result. We say: No second referendum! Britain out of the EU now!
As the clock ticks down to Brexit, warnings are coming thick and fast that life as we know it will end when Britain leaves. Hospitals will supposedly run out of medicines; supermarkets will run out of food; there will be fuel shortages; the lights will go out. People bring their dogs on these People’s Vote marches, and the hashtag #wooferendum has been trending. Dogs have been threatened that, come March 2019, kibble shortages will stalk the land. The 20 October march was composed heavily of the white petty bourgeoisie, and the backers of the march included well-known “champions of the people” like Lord Peter Mandelson.
One of the chief lies peddled by Remainers is that the EU means “free movement” across national borders. In our subscription drive in September and October, on university campuses from Glasgow to SOAS, I must have heard a hundred times: “I know there are problems with the EU but it’s given us free movement, right?” Well, no. The free movement myth rests on the lie that the EU is some kind of humanitarian superstate whose purpose is “peace”.
In reality the European Union is a reactionary bloc designed to increase the European imperialists’ competitiveness against their US and Japanese rivals. The bourgeoisie in the rich EU countries like Germany, France and Britain systematically oppress the weaker countries — Greece and the East European states, for example. The capitalist rulers use the EU and the euro to attack the jobs, wages and conditions of workers throughout Europe, including in the imperialist countries themselves.
They also maintain racist Fortress Europe, which means thousands of desperate, dark-skinned people drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. We in the International Communist League have always opposed the EU; we stand for a Socialist United States of Europe. Achieving that requires nothing short of a series of workers revolutions to overthrow the capitalist order.
Free movement doesn’t exist for most Europeans, never mind those coming from outside Europe. If you are a student from an EU country and can afford the university fees, you’re welcomed. But if you’re a building worker from Bulgaria or Romania who has come here to work, and your job ends and you’re broke, you could find yourself among the growing number of such workers thrown into detention and/or deported.
Free movement is really about the bourgeoisie’s right to move capital, goods and also labour where they want. People from Poland, Slovakia, Romania etc — the poorer EU countries — are regarded by the bosses as a pool of cheap labour, to be tossed out when no longer of use. For a while the British government was aggressively deporting people from EU countries who were sleeping rough, until the High Court ruled such deportations illegal in late 2017.
Imperialist plunder and devastation
Free movement may be a myth, but Fortress Europe is not. According to UN estimates, there were 68 million people displaced in the world last year. A small portion of that number is composed of people trying to get to Europe from various countries in Africa, the Near East and Asia. Most working people don’t want to uproot themselves and move to a strange country where it’s hard to survive. A major factor forcing people to become immigrants and refugees is the interminable series of neocolonial wars and depredations carried out or fomented by the imperialist powers. The US, Britain and other European imperialists have completely devastated the countries people are fleeing.
Libya has become a major transit point for people trying to get to Europe. The NATO bombing in 2011 which overthrew the regime of strongman Muammar el-Qaddafi caused a total collapse of Libyan society. For the past seven years various military strongmen, imperialist puppets, Islamist reactionaries and tribal forces have been fighting over what’s left of the country.
Today there are hundreds of thousands of desperate migrants in Libya, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa. Over 7000 of these people are held in squalid detention centres which are rife with diseases like tuberculosis. People are starved, beaten, tortured, raped and in some places enslaved. The EU imperialists could not care less what horrors befall these people; they just want to keep them out of their sight, out of Europe. After the refugee crisis in 2015, the EU did a deal to pay the Libyan coast guard to intercept migrant boats and return the people to Libya.
Many who do manage to make it to European countries are then thrown into detention centres. There are ten such centres here in Britain, which is the only country in Europe that detains asylum seekers indefinitely. They lock you up but you aren’t told for how long — itself a form of torture. One anti-deportation campaign group counted nearly 400 attempted suicides in immigrant detention centres during 2015, and just slightly fewer the following year. An exposé by Channel 4 a few years ago showed undercover footage shot inside Yarl’s Wood, where there are mainly women detainees. It showed a guard saying: “They’re all animals. Caged animals. Take a stick with you and beat them up.”
Over 2000 people are held in centres around the country at any one time. In the year 2000 there were maybe six or seven hundred, but detention was hugely expanded under the Blair Labour governments. During 2017 a total of over 27,000 people were detained. A survey done last summer found that more than half of the detainees were suicidal, seriously ill or victims of torture. Free all the detainees!
We communists have a straightforward answer to the plight of those who make it here: full citizenship rights for all immigrants, no matter from where or how they got here. No deportations! We fight for the trade unions to take up these demands, and to organise immigrant workers into the unions with full wages and benefits. This is vital to foster proletarian unity. The bourgeoisie tries to divide the proletariat in as many ways as possible — by race, by ethnicity, native-born v immigrant. It serves the ruling-class interest for immigrant workers to live in fear, without any rights. It is in the interest of the working class to fight for equal rights for all in order to break down the divisions which are used to drive down everyone’s wages and working conditions. Organised into the unions, immigrant workers can play a key role in struggles to advance the interests of the whole working class.
Why we oppose the slogan “open the borders”
We don’t advise the capitalist rulers on their immigration policy. The fact is, there is no progressive immigration policy under capitalism. The capitalists control their borders according to their economic and political requirements. We are against everything they do to immigrants to get rid of, detain, deport or starve them.
You’ll see reformist left groups and liberal campaigners who raise the slogan “open the borders” for the EU and beyond. The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) raise that slogan often and declare that “everyone should have the right to move freely across the world” (Socialist Worker, 25 October 2016). As for the Socialist Party, an article on their international website calls to “tear down the fences at the external borders of the EU”, and “for the right to seek asylum in a land of one’s choice” (socialistworld.net, 14 October 2015). They call on the same imperialist rulers who intercept the boats and deport and throw asylum seekers into detention camps to be humane and let everyone live where they wish.
Borders define the territory of a state. No capitalist ruling class will voluntarily relinquish control over its borders. So when you demand of the bourgeoisie that they open their borders it’s like saying: stop being a capitalist state! “Utopian” is a polite description of that.
The modern nation-state came into being with the development of capitalism. Contrary to the view sometimes fashionable on the left that multinational banks and industry in our age have made nation-states irrelevant, every capitalist corporation, no matter how scattered over the globe are its international operations, is ultimately reliant on the armed forces of its home country.
“Open the borders” can also have a reactionary content, from advancing imperialist economic penetration of dependent countries to obliterating the right to national self-determination. Likewise, “open borders” can be used to undermine an isolated workers state. It is not true that borders are always oppressive. Consider the case of Catalonia, today an oppressed nation straddling the border between Spain and France. We call for independence for Catalonia because Catalans in the main have historically made clear that is what they want. An independent Catalonia would surely need borders to defend itself against the Spanish and French states. The same is true of Quebec where the French-speaking Québécois nation is oppressed by and needs its independence from Canada. A defended border would be essential to ensure real sovereignty.
At the same time, Marxists understand that the capitalist nation-state, together with private ownership of the means of production, are impediments to the further development of the productive forces, which are social and international in character. Only with the advent of a global, classless communist society, when the state has been rendered unnecessary and withers away, will there be no borders. So “no borders” or “open the borders”, which you will hear over and over from the reformist left, denies that socialist revolution is the only road for the advancement of humankind. It is one way these outfits fuel illusions in the reformability of the capitalist system.
“Peaceful” imperialism — a recycled lie
The idea that the imperialists can peacefully collaborate in some kind of superstate isn’t new. VI Lenin, the Bolshevik leader, fought tooth and nail against it when the German social-democratic leader Karl Kautsky raised the idea during World War I. With huge authority as a Marxist theoretician in the Second International, Kautsky was the most dangerous of a layer of renegades from Marxism because he used the language of socialism to give a left cover to the outright social-chauvinists who backed their “own” capitalist rulers in the interimperialist war.
I recommend reading Lenin’s Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism (1916). It gives a precise definition of the epoch of imperialism, which began at the end of the 19th century and we’re still living in it now:
“Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun, in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.”
The communist answer to imperialism for over a century has been what Lenin advocated: proletarian revolutions to place the working class in power and expropriate the bourgeoisie. And that programme was implemented by the Bolshevik party in carrying out the first and to date only successful proletarian revolution, in Russia in 1917. But both before and after that victory Lenin had to fight the fake socialists of his day like Kautsky who did not share the goal of proletarian rule.
Kautsky put forward a theory of “ultra-imperialism”, a new phase of capitalism which he said posed the possibility that the imperialists could arrive at “an agreement between nations, disarmament and a lasting peace” (quoted in Lenin’s “The collapse of the Second International”, 1915). Lenin tore into this lie: “What Kautsky calls an economic trend towards ‘ultra-imperialism’ is just a petty-bourgeois exhortation to the financiers that they should refrain from doing evil.” Condemning Kautsky for consoling the masses with the illusion that permanent peace was possible under capitalism, Lenin proved the contrary to be the case. Capitalism in its highest stage necessitates rivalry among the most developed countries for resources, markets and cheap labour, and such rivalries inevitably lead to war.
Reformists who claim to oppose the EU today don’t necessarily put forward theories of “ultra-imperialism”, at least not in so many words. What they do is single out the bits they like and do not like about the European Union, as if it could be improved. In so doing, they adopt the methodology of seeing the EU as a “superstate” in which the various capitalist ruling classes can collaborate in a progressive way.
Thus the Socialist Party write:
“The majority of EU regulations — on standardisation, consumer protection, environmental safeguards, workplace rights and so on — are unobjectionable. However, those that would create distracting legal obstacles — the state aid rules, procurement laws, the posted workers’ directive, etc — should be declared null and void.”
— Socialism Today, March 2018
The Socialist Workers Party have the same methodology. They say: “‘No to the bosses’ single market’ and ‘Yes to freedom of movement’” (Socialist Worker, 24 October 2018).
We ourselves wrongly singled out for opposition one particular EU directive — the Posted Workers Directive — last spring in our article “Corbyn puts lipstick on EU pig” (Workers Hammer no 241, Spring 2018). The Posted Workers Directive allows capitalists to employ foreign “posted” workers on pay and conditions inferior to those of non-foreign workers. While this directive shows what the EU is about, to single it out for opposition can put one on the terrain of the Socialist Party: looking at the EU and saying, yeah, this bit’s ok, we’ll take this, but that bit’s nasty, let’s not have that. You’re on the terrain of trying to reform the imperialist cartel.
Some more equal than others
“Free travel” in the EU very much depends on who you are. Roma, despite being citizens of other EU countries, have often been rounded up and expelled from the likes of Britain, France and Greece. In 2013 a Roma camp near London was cleared out and almost all of its residents deported to Romania. A few months later David Blunkett, former Labour home secretary, ranted against Roma in Sheffield: “We have got to change the behaviour and the culture of the incoming community, the Roma community.”
The Schengen Accord, adopted in 1985, was never intended to give everyone passport-free travel. Despite all the hype about Schengen being a “free travel” area, for the bourgeoisie the precondition was hardening up the external borders of the Schengen zone. I read a recent quote from Catherine Lalumière, France’s delegate to Schengen when the accord was being drawn up: “We said at the time that reinforcing external borders was necessary to compensate for easing internal borders” (NewStatesman.com, 5 July 2018). She went on to scold the member states for not complying sufficiently. In September 2018 the European Commission in fact announced plans to beef up the EU’s border patrol, Frontex, from its present 1500 to over 10,000 armed border guards to keep out “unlawful” migrants.
Even within the Schengen zone, there are provisions for countries to temporarily reimpose border controls on grounds of defending “internal security and public policy”. As you may recall, in 2015 when the sea routes for people fleeing Syria were closed off by imperialist warships, refugees started going through the Balkans. Suddenly some borders, including between Schengen countries, became very definite. Hungary put up fences topped with razor wire to close its border with Serbia and instituted controls on the border with its fellow Schengen member Slovenia. Austria, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Slovenia and Sweden likewise temporarily reintroduced border controls in response to the influx of refugees. And many of those “temporary” controls have been reimposed repeatedly since then. Contrary to the view that the EU is some kind of superstate, all this serves to underline that, regardless of the particular EU mechanisms controlling the flow of people and labour, the bourgeoisies of the EU countries do assert their own rule, albeit in the case of the weaker countries this is curtailed by the dominant power of German imperialism.
Just as Mexico and the US are not equal “partners” within NAFTA (or its new successor USMCA), in the EU the dominant imperialists, especially Germany, economically manipulate the weaker countries. Greece is an all too obvious example. The EU imperialists have all but eliminated Greece’s sovereignty, with the acquiescence of the Greek bourgeoisie, including through use of the euro. Control over currency is a prerequisite for national sovereignty. Our comrades of the Trotskyist Group of Greece, and the ICL as a whole, raise the call for Greece out of the euro and out of the EU!
The EU’s economic diktats have severely crippled some historic industries in Eastern Europe, for example shipbuilding in Croatia. Before that country could join the EU in 2013 Brussels demanded Croatia stop subsidising its shipbuilding industry, leading to thousands of sackings. Fourteen per cent of Croatians of working age have been forced to emigrate to Germany, Austria and Ireland, among other countries, in search of employment.
Corbyn, Labour and the EU
Our reformist opponents are very keen to tell you that the answer to the misery of immigrants and refugees (as well as to Brexit and pretty much everything else) is a Corbyn Labour government. “Tories out!” is the main slogan at nearly every left demo you go to in Britain. Jeremy Corbyn jettisoned his lifelong opposition to the EU project after he became Labour leader and he betrayed his working-class base by campaigning for Remain in the 2016 Brexit referendum. He has continued to “put lipstick on the EU pig”, for example by falsely presenting the EU as a defender of workers’ rights. He has endorsed staying in an EU customs union, which means upholding a raft of anti-working-class policies. At Labour’s conference in September, Corbyn continued this treacherous stance, refusing to oppose a second Brexit referendum.
With their 2017 election manifesto the Labour Party worked to reassure the bourgeoisie that Labour would be a “safe pair of hands”. The manifesto talked about border security being vital to prevent “people trafficking” and terrorism; it attacked the Tories for having “not taken control of our borders” and for cutting back the Border Force. Labour has pledged to close two immigrant detention centres, posing the question of what it has in mind for the other eight.
This is not unusual behaviour for Labour, even when led by its left wing. Consider the response of Clement Attlee’s Labour Party and government when the Empire Windrush was on its way to Britain in 1948. The Windrush was part of the wave of immigration to Britain from colonies and former colonies in the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent to fill labour shortages after World War II. In 1948 the Labour government passed the British Nationality Act, establishing the status of “citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies” — including the right to work and live in Britain for people born in the colonies.
Yet before the Windrush had left port in Jamaica, Attlee, the Labour prime minister, tried unsuccessfully to divert it to East Africa. After the ship arrived in Tilbury, Arthur Creech Jones, the colonial secretary, said: don’t worry, even though these people have British passports, “They won’t last one winter in England.” This was Labour doing what Labour does when in government. On behalf of the British bourgeoisie, Labour administers the capitalist state, which is racist to the core. I would add that this post-war Labour government was administering the racist and fast-declining British Empire as well.
As the labour shortage ended, the immigration laws were made increasingly discriminatory. The 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act ended the automatic right to enter Britain for residents of Commonwealth countries, which then included India and Pakistan and was soon to include the former colonies in the Caribbean. This law was designed to keep out black people and Asians but to allow in whites from countries like Canada and Australia. Labour, then in opposition, opposed the 1962 act. But when back in office in 1964 under Harold Wilson, Labour almost immediately began to extend anti-immigrant legislation.
Beginning in the late 1960s thousands of East African Asians, mainly from Kenya and Uganda, fled or were expelled by the black nationalist governments of those countries. The British Labour government slammed shut the door via the 1968 Commonwealth Immigrants Act. This act introduced the so-called “patriality” principle, under which you could live and work in Britain if you had a parent or grandparent who was born here. For millions of those with dark skin from Commonwealth countries, their “entitlement” to British citizenship was an empty shell.
Most of you will be familiar with the atrocities committed against British citizens from the Caribbean which filled the press for many weeks last spring. As you can see by what I’ve just outlined, Theresa May’s vicious “hostile environment” policy for immigrants has plenty of precedents. And now, a year after reports began coming to light of how these black British people, children of the Windrush-era arrivals, were being sacked, made homeless, denied healthcare, put in detention and deported, many are still waiting for the “restitution” they were promised.
All of which underlines that in capitalist society, and under Labour governments just as under the Tories, the bourgeoisie make immigration law, as all other law, to serve their class interests. Corbyn’s Labour is a bourgeois workers party, to use Lenin’s designation. It has a working-class base saddled with a pro-capitalist leadership and programme, so naturally it has always defended the capitalist order. The Socialist Party has been calling for a general election, for a Corbyn government and for “a socialist, internationalist, anti-racist Brexit in the interest of all workers” (Socialist, 25 July 2018). A Corbyn Labour government would be a capitalist government and would not carry out “socialist policies”.
What is needed is not a Labour-led capitalist government, but the establishment of the working class as the ruling class. And that won’t happen through the capitalists’ Parliament — it requires a workers revolution, led by a Leninist vanguard party. The Spartacist League/Britain fights to build such a revolutionary workers party, one that stands as the tribune of the people in defending all the oppressed including immigrants and refugees. Building such parties internationally is part of reforging the Trotskyist Fourth International as the world party of socialist revolution.
Facing racist Fortress Europe, our slogan is for a Socialist United States of Europe. But this will not be brought to you by Brussels bureaucrats or by social-democratic parties like Labour administering capitalist states. It will be the product of workers revolutions in the European countries to sweep away the capitalist states and expropriate the bourgeoisie. Proletarian rule will enable the establishment of collectivised economies based on international planning which will lay the material basis for a qualitative leap in labour productivity and material abundance. That is what’s necessary for the eventual withering away of the state and the development of a global classless, communist society.