Standing up to racism is not a moral add-on for the left – it is a central political dimension of the fight back against neo-liberalism. The racism and concessions to racism of the main ruling political parties is integral to their answer to the global economic crisis. The wealthy are hoarding their wealth, our wealth, because the return on their investments isn’t high enough. The answer of governments, British, European and worldwide, is austerity. Drive down wages, working conditions, welfare, provision of housing, health and the social wage so that an even bigger share of the wealth society produces can go to the already wealthy. Then maybe they’ll invest. And most politicians support austerity because they are members of that world of the wealthy or they subscribe to their worldview.
But to get away with a policy of impoverishment while retaining political power they need to appeal to a common national interest and simultaneously divide and rule, demonise a perceived threat and identify scapegoats. So ‘we’re all in it together’, but the employed are turned against the unemployed, the able against the disabled, the ‘deserving’ poor against the ‘undeserving’, Muslims harbour a threat to our liberal civilization, and immigrants, not employers and the government, reduce wages, destroy working conditions, cause unemployment and put pressure on health and housing.
The refugee crisis has exacerbated the political polarisation to left and right elsewhere. The rise of the populist and fascist right and the radical left (like Syriza and Podemos) in response to the effects of the economic crisis has been mirrored by the response to the refugee crisis. On the one hand, increased electoral support for anti-immigrant parties and on the other, in response to the photo of little Alyan Kurdi, the upsurge of practical and political support for refugees from thousands of ordinary people, campaigning, collecting, delivering, volunteering, unwilling any longer to leave it to the inadequate response of governments.
If Cameron, Hollande and the like had behaved like the enlightened, liberal representatives of ‘Judeo-Christian’ civilisation they claim to be and supported Merkel’s call to welcome the Syrian refugees, the whole political mood of Europe would be radically different. Emergency measures would be being taken everywhere, empty property requisitioned to provide housing, surplus food and clothing distributed, integration programmes initiated.
Refugees, instead, are met at Calais and the Macedonian border with barbed wire, bulldozers, dogs, rubber bullets and batons. We now know the decision to reduce emergency naval support in the Mediterranean was taken in the full knowledge that it would lead to more drownings. As it crucified Greece financially in defence of austerity, Europe is crucifying the refugees from its own wars and proxy wars.
Scapegoating refugees and immigrants and demonising Muslims makes racist and xenophobic politics more mainstream. The spectre of fascism is taking corporeal shape once again in Europe. There is another Europe though, a liberal and enlightened, sometimes even socialist, one, as we’ve seen in Greece, Spain and Portugal when thousands supported refugees and in the 150,000 who marched against racism on March 19 in London with three and a half thousand in Glasgow.
The task for the left, inside or outside of Fortress Europe, is to encourage and give a political lead to that movement. While fighting for better wages, full-time contracts, better working conditions, and defending pensions, the health service and so on, it means simultaneously standing up to racism and fascism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. In standing up to racism, we undermine a main pillar of austerity and the rule of the wealthy. We have common cause with the refugees and Muslims for the rule of the wealthy is global and drives the extreme poverty and war that is creating the greatest migration of humanity since WW2. Together, we can realise that better world that is possible.
Jock Morris is chair of the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees and a longstanding SWP member