Yesterday afternoon David Cameron announced – after weeks of participating in the despicable, racist bile being thrown at the thousands of desperate Asian and African refugees making their way to Europe – that he would allow 20,000 people to find refuge in Britain over the next five years. This announcement is the very definition of a political fudge, but it is one which will have fatal consequences for many innocent people.
Since the widespread circulation of the image of 3-year old Aylan Kurdi’s body on a Turkish beach, the Tories have been struggling to toe the line between their anti-immigrant stock-in-trade which so much of their political support is centred on, and the pressure from working class people across Europe, and from much of the European bourgeois, to accept some of the refugees. Today’s announcement is the epitome of that cynical Tory politics. With it, Cameron hopes to appear humane and caring by creating a headline figure of 20,000 people, at the same time as appearing strong and resolute for the rabid anti-European, anti-refugee and racist middle class that he relies on for his hardcore of votes.
While the Tory press will present this as a successful balancing of ‘humane’ politics with defence of the ‘national interest’, it is in fact a recipe for more deaths and a cover for further attacks on the freedom of movement. Already, the number of Syrian refugees stands above 4 million, about half of whom are under 18. Of these, nearly 350,000 have filed applications for asylum in Europe. As has been noted, however, as the scale of the crisis has escalated Europe has merely fortified itself to repulse these people. Videos are circulating widely on the internet showing the extremity of violence and repression being visited on refugees regardless of age, gender or any other criteria.
But even by the low standards of the European bourgeois, the British government’s response is pathetic. By comparison, Germany and France (each of whom have already accepted more than Britain) are to take 55,000 people over a period of two years. What’s more, as European countries slowly prepare for the arrival of the refugees they continue to fuel the very conflicts which have created this situation. Today, Cameron has also revealed that the RAF has killed two British men fighting for ISIS in Syria. This bombing is not only a flagrant violation of the capitalists’ own international laws, it is also utterly counter-productive, as all bombing campaigns lead to far more civilian deaths than they do combatant deaths. As such, Cameron is throwing fuel on the fire with which ISIS is setting alight much of the Middle East.
This pathetic political dance of the capitalist politicians, though, stands in sharp contrast with the response of most working class people in Europe to the appalling reality being faced by hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war, persecution and poverty. This mood is evident in the heartening scenes in Germany, as dozens of people warmly greeted the arrival of refugees to their city, and in the demonstrations which have been called across Europe to demand the opening of borders for refugees. In these actions is to be found the real source of a resolution to the migrant crisis.
The Labour response
The crisis has also had its impact on the Labour leadership contest. Yvette Cooper, the only Blairite whose campaign has picked up any momentum as the race has unfolded, attempted to take the limelight on the issue by declaring that Britain should take 10,000 refugees. Her speedy response to the increasing prominence and concern over the refugees has had little effect, though, as was evident in the last leadership debate, which was universally regarded as a victory for Corbyn. It was very hard to take seriously any Blairite platitude on migration when for years they have been calling for and actually making concessions to anti-immigrant attitudes.
The response of Jeremy Corbyn has been greeted with far more warmth, as is to be expected given its consistency with his long-established stands against racism and imperialist war, and in favour migration. Corbyn is basing his position on the need for a negotiated distribution of migrants, appealing in doing so to the internationalist instincts of his followers and traditions of the labour movement. But in placing his faith in the good intentions of international organisations such as the United Nations Corbyn is confusing the revolutionary tradition of proletarian internationalism with naïve faith in the bourgeois’ international arbitrations committees. The UN may be capable of organising the distribution of migrants, but it is subject to the interests of the major imperialist powers and is therefore incapable of guaranteeing the safety of the migrants in the long- or even medium-term.
Similarly, in merely calling for the taking of more refugees without raising the question of how they will be looked after and what conditions they will face upon entering Britain, Corbyn is leaving wide open the potential for the warm feelings of the moment to make way for an upturn in racist and anti-immigrant feeling. Exactly this has occurred in Turkey, where large numbers of Syrians have been settled in awful conditions, and have faced attacks by Turks who themselves continue to suffer poverty.
We are sure that Jeremy would agree that the only way to protect refugees in the long term from racist attacks is to build a society without the scarcity which leaves ‘native’ and ‘immigrant’ to fight over the scraps. As long as capitalism survives, swelling the labour force with desperate people will ultimately serve to increase competition for limited jobs, homes and other necessities. This makes incumbent on the Corbyn campaign an attempt to link the ‘Refugees Welcome’ movement and his own pro-migrant stance to an inclusive, working class campaign for full employment and quality houses. Without explicitly and energetically drawing together these aspects of his campaign Corbyn is laying the ground for the right wing to further divide the working class along national and racial lines. Such developments would have terrible consequences for the whole class, but would be doubly devastating to the refugees.
Of course, in order for full employment or universal quality housing to be achieved it will be necessary to fund them. To that, we say: ‘make the rich pay!’ Throughout years of austerity for working class people, and on our backs, the richest people in Britain have been making a killing – it’s time for them to pay their fair share to make our lives, and those of the migrants from Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, a little better. Indeed, many refugees could be housed very easily without a single house being built: all we need to do is expropriate the vast amounts of unused land, empty rooms and vacant houses owned by the rich for their further enrichment and private enjoyment! We must fight to defend the rights of refugees and migrants wherever they are, but we must also guarantee their livelihoods and safety. This requires bold, socialist policies.
by Eoin Breathnach, Leeds Marxists