Workers Vanguard No. 1071
10 July 2015
Europe: Racist Clampdown on Immigration
The following article originally appeared in Workers Hammer No. 231 (Summer 2015), newspaper of the Spartacist League/Britain.
When some 1,200 people drowned in the Mediterranean in a matter of days in April, the horrendous plight of those trying to secure a future for themselves and their children evoked widespread public sympathy across Europe. But for the scoundrels who head the capitalist governments of the European Union (EU), the mass drownings provided a “humanitarian” pretext for launching military action.
Screaming about “slave-traffickers,” Europe’s capitalist rulers are seeking to justify a military operation to search and destroy boats, fuel dumps and other facilities used by refugees and immigrants; Britain and France are drafting a resolution for UN backing. At the same time, the EU member states have given the green light to yet another round of tighter immigration controls. From the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the North African coast to the Greek-Turkish border, entry points into the EU are already closed off with walls and razor-wire fences. Now warships from Britain, Germany and other EU states are deployed in the Mediterranean. Any such intervention raises the prospect of renewed imperialist military intervention against Libya.
Arguably the most piggish of the lot are the rulers of imperialist Britain. Last October the government announced it would cease paying contributions towards the rescue of immigrants at sea. With all the haughtiness due her rank, Baroness Anelay, the Tory Foreign Office minister, declaimed: “We do not support planned search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. We believe that they create an unintended ‘pull factor’” (theguardian.com, 28 October 2014). Now the Tory government has ruled out any idea of taking in a token quota of asylum-seekers. The EU imperialists’ message to the desperate masses fleeing imperialist-induced war and starvation in Asia, Africa and the Near East is: Drop dead!
The thousands of immigrants who have died in the attempt to reach the gates of “Fortress Europe” were murdered by the imperialist governments that have militarily devastated their countries, ravaged their economies, robbed them of their livelihoods and then callously left them to die. The collapse of the Soviet degenerated workers state in the early 1990s removed a historic obstacle to imperialist free-booting. The first Iraq war of 1990-91 was quickly followed by U.S. military intervention in Somalia and a host of other imperialist military adventures. Over the past decade, the U.S. and Britain have been involved in wars and/or occupations from Afghanistan and Iraq to Syria and Libya, while France has repeatedly sent troops to protect its economic interests in Ivory Coast, Mali and the Central African Republic.
The existence of the Soviet Union had allowed manoeuvring room for “Third World” capitalist rulers, who garnered economic and military aid by offering themselves as clients to Moscow or Washington. Following capitalist counterrevolution in the USSR the various imperialist powers have increasingly fomented, stoked or manipulated inter-ethnic conflicts and civil wars in order to remove, install or buy off local tyrants and ensure access to valuable natural resources such as oil and diamonds. Meanwhile, countless people are slaughtered, displaced or left to die of man-made famines or scourges like AIDS, which were allowed to rage unchecked.
The 2011 bombing of Libya by the U.S., Britain and France led to the toppling of the bonapartist Qaddafi government and a state of utter collapse and anarchy. With various military strongmen, imperialist puppets, Islamist reactionaries and tribal forces fighting each other, the unguarded Libyan coast became a destination for many of those from Asia, Africa and the Near East seeking to gain entry into Europe. While the “people smugglers” who extort thousands of pounds to place people on rickety boats are parasites, the big-time criminals are the imperialist rulers. Those people who do manage to make it into Europe are often thrown into brutal detention centres, like Britain’s Yarl’s Wood, whose inmates have protested against being treated “like animals or less than animals.” Such are the normal workings of the global capitalist system.
We say: Those who make it here should have the right to stay here—Full citizenship rights for all immigrants! No deportations! Shut down the detention camps! All imperialist military forces out of Africa and the Near East!
The Apostles of
Various groups on the reformist left are promoting fatuous illusions that the rapacious imperialists who are responsible for what has been labelled a “humanitarian catastrophe” will “do something” to help their victims. ControCorrente, the Italian group affiliated to the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), represented in Britain by the Socialist Party [and in the U.S. by Socialist Alternative], demands that “an international maritime assistance plan must be re-established in international waters and, if necessary, in Libyan national waters. Assistance must be guaranteed to every human being” (socialistworld.net, 27 April).
The CWI holds up as a model of “success” the Italian government’s Mare Nostrum programme, describing it as a “military and humanitarian mission whose principal objective was maritime assistance and the rescue of migrants.” In fact, the declared objective of the now defunct Mare Nostrum search-and-rescue programme was to provide a “deterrent effect” against immigration. And the handfuls that “humanitarian” Italian imperialism does rescue are liable to be thrown into overcrowded camps—as were the 27 people who survived the mass drowning in April.
The British Workers Power group is a typical example of reformist cheerleading for “human rights” imperialism. Lecturing Cameron & Co. that the “highest priority should surely be placed on saving the lives of people driven to desperate measures by consequences beyond their control,” Workers Power demands: “We need to open the borders of the EU to all who seek asylum or work within it.” They continue: “We need to tear down the walls and transform Fortress Europe into Refuge Europe” (www.workerspower.co.uk, 22 April). Who is “we,” one asks—perhaps that Labour government that Workers Power urged people to elect in May, to no avail?
The Workers Power statement acknowledges that the exploitation and wars carried out by the imperialists “are the underlying causes of the humanitarian disaster.” What they do not acknowledge, not surprisingly, is their own role. Workers Power, among others on the left including the Socialist Workers Party, helped prepare the ideological ground for the imperialist bombing of Libya by hailing the anti-Qaddafi “revolutionaries” who would later act as spotters for the British and French bombers. Even after the country was overrun by reactionary tribal leaders and Islamic fundamentalists Workers Power continued to claim that these imperialist-backed “rebels” provided an opening for “a struggle for consistent democracy and internationalism” (fifthinternational.org, 22 August 2011).
The call to “open the borders” is both utopian and reactionary. To call on the capitalists to open their borders is to call on them to eliminate the capitalist system. The modern nation-state (or multinational state dominated by one nation) arose as a vehicle for the development of capitalism and will remain the foundation of capitalism until the whole system is overthrown through a series of workers revolutions. Every capitalist corporation, no matter how far flung its international operations, is ultimately reliant on the armed forces of its home country. No capitalist ruling class will voluntarily relinquish control over its territory.
For revolutionary Marxists, it is axiomatic that the capitalist nation-state, together with private ownership of the means of production, are fetters on the further development of the forces of production, which are social and international in character. Only with the advent of a global, classless communist society and the withering away of the state will there be no borders. To argue otherwise is to deny the iron necessity of socialist revolution for the further advance of humanity and serves only to fuel illusions in the reformability of a potentially “humane” capitalist system.
If promoted as a general principle, the demand for open borders under capitalism is reactionary. As the history of Zionist Israel amply demonstrates, unlimited mass immigration is a threat to the right of national self-determination. The major powers have the means to throttle the flow of refugees and immigrants into their countries when they need to; not so smaller and weaker peoples. While the imperialist states (at the behest of the Zionists) closed their borders to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany and to the survivors of the death camps, they compelled hundreds of thousands of European Jews to go to Palestine, where they ended up displacing and expelling much of the Arab population.
As the entire history of the British empire shows, insofar as a great power can force a weaker, economically backward state to open its borders, this allows for increased penetration by imperialist capital, effectively eliminating any degree of national sovereignty of the weaker country. The EU capitalist club is committed to the free movement of capital. Immigrant workers from poorer EU states are used as a pool of low-wage labour, and the capitalists seek to manipulate immigration to suit the needs of the labour market in their own countries. In 2004, when the EU expanded into Eastern Europe, citizens of new member states were given the right to work in Britain to fill gaps in the labour market; today Cameron is intent on gutting the legal rights of those immigrants, causing friction with Germany and other EU countries, not least Poland. Meanwhile Italy, France and Britain are at each other’s throats, and are reinforcing their borders with each other, while deploying police to attack immigrants trying to cross the frontiers.
Originating as an economic adjunct to the U.S.-dominated anti-Soviet NATO alliance, the EU has always been a mechanism for the capitalist rulers to maximise the rate of exploitation of the working class of the region. The EU is an inherently unstable bloc aimed at improving the competitive edge of its dominant members, chiefly Germany, vis-à-vis their imperialist rivals, centrally Japan and the U.S. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the 1992 Maastricht Treaty set the framework for the EU of today. It laid down the conditions for joining the single currency. Member states signed up, agreeing to limits on their budget deficits in exchange for cheaper loans, larger inflows of capital and freer trade within Europe. The euro is an instrument for economic domination, chiefly by Germany, over the poorer EU states. Moreover, as the current EU crisis shows, a single currency shared by different countries is unviable in the long term.
At bottom, the call to “transform Fortress Europe into Refuge Europe” reveals Workers Power’s faith that this imperialist-dominated conglomerate can be turned into a progressive “social Europe,” as propagated by social-democratic leftists and trade-union bureaucrats. In explaining why they refused to call for a no vote in the referendum on the Maastricht Treaty, these reformists argued that it could be “a basis for extending rights and gains from states where the working class never won these gains, or where it has lost them,” and that “to some extent European workers will be better armed to fight back on a continental scale after the implementation of the terms of Maastricht” (LRCI Resolution, Workers Power No. 156, June 1992).
The notion that the European capitalists would help “arm” those whom they exploit to fight more effectively to ameliorate the terms of their exploitation truly requires a religious leap of faith! The International Communist League has opposed the EU since its inception, from the standpoint of proletarian internationalism. To see how our sharp opposition to the EU and the single currency has been vindicated, one need only look at the economic devastation visited upon Greece, or at the fate of the poorer countries of Eastern Europe, which have been turned into vast reservoirs of exploitation by (mainly) German and French capital.
With most of the liberal and reformist left peddling illusions in this reactionary imperialist alliance, the main beneficiaries of growing opposition to the EU have been ultrareactionary to outright fascist parties, from UKIP in Britain and Italy’s Northern League to the National Front in France and Greece’s Golden Dawn. These racist forces have aggressively tried to scapegoat immigrants for the recurrent economic crises that are endemic to the capitalist mode of production.
If nothing else, the current crisis in the EU exposes the myth that Europe can be peacefully integrated under capitalism. In his 1916 pamphlet Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, leader of the Bolshevik Revolution V.I. Lenin ridiculed a version of the same argument then proffered by Karl Kautsky, describing it as Kautsky’s “silly little fable about ‘peaceful’ ultra-imperialism.” As Lenin explained, imperialism represents the final stage of capitalism, when the world has already been divided up by the major powers and the export of capital predominates over the export of goods. Imperialism is marked by huge financial monopolies extending their grip over the world economy and the subjugation of weaker peoples while the stronger powers fight each other for control of markets and resources. The system itself necessarily leads to wars of neocolonial aggrandisement and, ultimately, interimperialist wars. Imperialist domination prevents any substantial economic growth of the countries of belated capitalist development, miring most of them in destitution.
In the semicolonial countries, whose rulers are tied by a thousand threads to the dominant world powers, the only way to overthrow the imperialist yoke is the seizure of power by the proletariat leading the oppressed masses. This task is inseparably linked to the need for proletarian revolution in the advanced capitalist countries, which will open the road to the development of socialism. In contrast to the liberal plea for “open borders,” which reduces workers in the semicolonial world to passive victims, we fight for the Trotskyist programme of permanent revolution. Within this internationalist perspective, immigrant workers have a central role to play, by acting as a human bridge to link the European proletariat to their class brothers and sisters in Africa, Asia and the Near East.
Mass migration is an integral feature of imperialist capitalism. British capitalism has long exploited immigrant labour, from the time of the 19th-century Industrial Revolution when it drew in masses of Irish immigrants, to the post-World War II period when British employers actively recruited labour from the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent. As we wrote in the ICL Declaration of Principles (1998):
“Modern capitalism, i.e., imperialism, reaching into all areas of the planet, in the course of the class struggle and as economic need demands, brings into the proletariat at its bottom new sources of cheaper labor, principally immigrants from poorer and less-developed regions of the world—workers with few rights who are deemed more disposable in times of economic contraction.”
To be sure, the imperialists are not now actively encouraging a mass influx of downtrodden and impoverished masses of semicolonial people. Yet those who do manage to get into EU countries—often as asylum-seekers, as that is the common legal avenue of admission for many—serve precisely the purpose outlined above. With the aid of the trade-union bureaucracy, the capitalists constantly seek to set the most backward layers of the indigenous working class against immigrants, threatening to replace native-born workers with lower-paid foreign workers. In this way, the bourgeoisie seeks to depress wage levels for the working class as a whole. As a central component of the proletariat of Europe, immigrant and minority workers are bound to play a key role in the fight for socialist revolution.
What is needed is joint struggle by all workers against the wage-slashing, union-bashing capitalists: to fight for the unionization of all immigrant workers, who are often compelled to work for non-union contractors, and for equal pay for equal work; to fight to divide all existing jobs amongst all the available workforce, with no reduction in pay but with a significant reduction in working hours. Against protectionist, anti-immigrant chauvinism, workers must be won to the understanding that they share a common class interest with the workers of all countries and all nationalities against the capitalist class enemy.
The international character of the working class gives it potentially enormous superiority over the bourgeoisie, whose system of production for profit works by anarchistic methods that fuel national conflicts and constantly create social inequality and economic crisis. To realise its revolutionary potential, the proletariat needs an international party to unite the class across national and other divisions and to co-ordinate the interdependent struggles of workers of every country. It is for this purpose that the ICL fights to reforge the Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution.
Following the example of the Bolshevik party that led the Russian Revolution in 1917, we aim to act, in the words of Lenin, as a “tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression” and “to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat” (What Is To Be Done? ).
Our programme is for proletarian revolutions to expropriate the capitalist exploiters and establish a Socialist United States of Europe. The economic unification of Europe under workers rule has been an urgent need for more than a century. Together with proletarian revolutions in the U.S. and Japan and in the more backward countries that today suffer imperialist subjugation, the creation of a socialist Europe would lead to a vast expansion of the productive forces in an international planned economy. Workers governments in the advanced countries would devote enormous resources to the development of Asia, Africa and Latin America, helping pave the way to an egalitarian world order in which people will choose to move around the world for pleasure and enlightenment, not out of fear of physical and economic insecurity.