Immigration is a central question for both left and right, in the main centres of Western capitalism. In recent issues of SLR, John Foster and Peter Lomas have addressed some of the issues. Both contained points I agree with. John pointed out that EU immigration policy is racist. It allows for free movement within the EU but rigidly excludes immigrants and refugees from the rest of the world. The EU currently pays Turkey 6bn euros to hold millions of asylum seekers and to stop them entering the EU. Refugees fleeing war, oppression and economic destitution find the EU has a closed border and consequently many of them die in overcrowded and inadequate boats trying to cross the Mediterranean. During the EU referendum campaign, UKIP and pro-Brexit Tories used EU immigration in a highly divisive way, arguing Britain was being flooded with EU immigrants seeking to obtain benefits and misuse the NHS. John argued: ‘We need a non- racist immigration policy’.
By contrast, Peter says that the responsibility of Northern societies should be ‘to help reconstruct the poorest post-colonial societies – those ruined countries – beginning with sub – Saharan Africa’ using increased foreign aid. I agree rich capitalist countries have a major responsibility to show solidarity and give support to countries ravaged by imperialism, global warming and the impact of neo-liberal economic capitalism. But northern aid to the poorer parts of the world usually comes with massive strings. I doubt if it could provide anything other than increased exploitation and levels of oppression.
While their intentions were honourable, both ignored the central reason why immigration has become so important. Both sought to address economic questions without considering the central political issue which dominates discussion on immigration and free movement. In Europe, the far right has achieved a measure of electoral success. For the case of Germany, see Victor Grossman’s article in this issue. In Poland, fascists organised a demonstration attracting tens of thousands calling for a ‘White Europe of Brotherly Nations’. Trump unapologetically retweeted the Islamophobic posts from Britain First as part of his ongoing campaign to scapegoat Muslims and immigrants for America’s economic ills and American imperialism failure to dominate the world with its military superiority. In Britain, the Football Lads Alliance (FLA), using issues of ‘terrorism and extremism, attracted thousands to a demonstration in London. The FLA has fascists such as the EDL’s Tommy Robinson at its core.
What lies behind the scare stories and the targeting of asylum seekers and immigrants? As the mainstream capitalist economies have floundered, with falling profits, stagnant growth and declining living standards, those politicians and business people whose responsibility it is to organise the system and make it work, for the benefit of business, have used cuts and austerity in an attempt to restore profitability. Racism is central to how this works.
The racists and their right-wing supporters say that problems with the NHS in Britain can be put down to too many immigrants using resources. Free movement from the EU, for them, is simply about people coming to Britain to gain access to better welfare benefits. They say wages are falling, and jobs are being lost because British workers are being undercut by foreign workers who will work for less and work longer hours.
Socialists’ starting point should be to challenge the myths put forward by politicians and media about the so-called problems of immigration. Low wages, unemployment, rising inequality and poverty are the consequences of decisions made by capitalists and politicians whose class interest is to increase levels of exploitation while finding ways of minimising resistance. Throughout the history of the socialist movement, activists have fought to find common class interest between immigrant and indigenous workers, recognising they have a common enemy and can gain more by fighting together.
For most of human history, people have been able to travel the planet unhindered by borders and border controls. Only with the advent of the nation state, itself a product of capitalism, have restrictions on the movement of people, along with colonialism, imperialism and modern racism come into existence. Money, commodities and capital are free to move around the world at will, without undue interference. Indeed, the same applies to the wealthy who own and control these things. It is the poor, the dispossessed and exploited who are forced into refugee camps or undertake what for most are dangerous, enforced journeys into an uncertain future to try to better their situation.
The problem with the notion of immigration controls, of any type or however well intentioned, is the idea that somehow it is the immigrants to blame for the economic woes of a particular country. The idea for example of ‘British Jobs for British Workers’ (Gordon Brown’s slogan), rests on the assumption that there is a common interest between British workers and British bosses, which there is not. Socialists have a responsibility to stand with those oppressed and exploited by the impact of neo liberal free market capitalism. The notion of non-racist immigration controls is a delusion.
Bob Fotheringham is a member of the Socialist Workers’ Party in Scotland