the foundations of oppression can't be plucked up without the anger of a multitude

Why a Corbyn-led Labour Government would be better for nearly everyone, even the radical left. Part 1b: Race and Immigration, questions for the radical left

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This is Part 1b of a series of articles around the UK General Election. You can find the introduction to the series here.

The Left has basically won on the question of Austerity. It has managed to convince people that the stripping back of state provision and selling off of state assets was not done to reduce the deficit but rather out of political considerations: to enrich the rich, transferring wealth upwards. Under the Conservatives, the deficit has increased and they are not in the least bit concerned because that was never their aim in the first place. Despite some fluctuations, Britain’s external borrowing (debt owed to creditors outside the UK) remains above 6,000,000 million pounds, up by another 500,000 million pounds since the Tories came to power.[13]

No borders posterHowever, on the question of immigration, the Left has still to find an answer that can convince the population. “No borders”, is more than a political slogan, it is the only ethical position on the subject. To assert the right to residency of some people but not others has no moral basis other than a fascist-style racial supremacy that posits an arbitrary ‘ethnicity’ (either ‘Anglo-Saxon’ or ‘white’) as the basis of belonging or a feudal-style ‘right of conquest’. ‘We were here first’, runs the latter argument. Of course, ‘we’ were only here first because our ancestors migrated here – whether (in the case of the UK) that was as Saxon invaders of Celtic kingdoms, Norman invaders of the Saxon ones, Huguenot refugees, Irish migrants fleeing the genocide of the Famine, Jewish refugees of pogroms, former residents of the British empire invited into the “Mother Country” after Independence, Dutch executives of Shell in Aberdeen or whatever other iteration of the various waves of migration that is the story of human existence since bipedal apes came down from the trees in the leeward side of the East African Rift Valley. Thus, according to the logic-of-precedence arguments, anyone who can force their way into the country should have a right to stay. It’s either that or only those (non-existent) people who can claim a pure descent from the ORIGINAL human settlers on this island have a true right to remain.

Before the 20th century, Russia was the only major European country to enforce any system of passports and travel regulations, and this was a remnant of a feudal system of serfdom rather than an early move towards capitalist modernity. The USA had imposed a tax on Chinese arrivals in 1882 (having finished with their need of them to build the railroads), but basically freedom of movement was a global fact until the First World War and the Russian Revolution changed the game for Nation-States with mass refugees and notions of foreign enemies-within.

Yarls Wood IRCBritish immigration policy is particularly inhumane. Perhaps there is a right for a community to say that some people cannot join them, but it does seem like the burden of proof is at present the wrong way round. To gain residency in the UK for non-EU nationals, a person on arrival must avoid falling foul of any one of the twenty different ‘grounds for refusal’ that are currently in place under Home Office rules.[14] According to government statistics, nearly twenty thousand people were refused entry into the UK at the border in the year 2015.[15] There are 12,000 “enforced removals” a year, including 2000 people deported on specially chartered flights. (Corporate Watch) Many are made destitute by being refused recourse to public funds and over thirty thousand people a year are locked up in detention centres. Simply to obtain a temporary visa from outside the EU for parent-child or spouse visits has become fraught with difficulty, the Home Office now arguing that relationships can be carried out instead via “modern means of communication”.[16]

Yet ‘No Borders’ seems absolutely crazy to the vast majority of the British public. And they are right. International structures of capitalism mean that in a global system of inequality it cannot be made to work. It is not a ‘directional demand’ but an end-goal. For now we must demand an end to exploitation in the Global South. We should be refusing to buy products that were made under systems of immiseration while demanding that the British state refuses to allow such goods to be sold in this country. We must resurrect the demand to drop the debt.

Jubilee 2000 protestsGlobal capitalism’s incredibly complex logistics, distribution and infrastructure mean that products can be made for a multinational corporations in such complex configurations of subcontractors with parts made in so many different countries that even the corporation itself could not trace all processes of production.  The British people have become lumpen-consumers and may not accept the loss of cheap imported goods, but they have also shown, along with the rest of Europe, that they are generous and sympathetic to suffering. The ‘refugee crisis’ had the capitalist media on the back foot because suddenly there was a European-wide sympathy for those forced to claim asylum.

Just as police in riots retreat and concede territory for a while in order to regather and push back again when they have the force to do so, so the Right, temporarily, pretended to be moved by the emotive outpouring during the 2015 European ‘refugee crisis’. Sun crisis campaignThey attempted to re-frame the crisis as a humanitarian rather than a political situation and pushed the story that one photo of Aylan Kurdi was the single catalyst for a total change of feeling (thereby engrandising their own role in the matter). Across the continent, however, there were thousands of people spontaneously coming out to help this influx of people who found themselves inside the continent as the redoubts of ‘Fortress Europe’ (Greece, Ukraine, Libya, Tunisia etc) became destablised and could no longer hold back the mass of dispossessed. (See my post from the time)

When the story of sexual assault in Cologne came out, the Right went back on the offensive and regained the narrative. But we learned that there are more people than we thought who actually care about their fellow person, regardless of their background.

So what can the Radical Left say that might convince people to address the real causes of a continued mass migration? Is there a way to shift the discourse so that immigration is seen as a political problem of indentured labour forced to move by an economic violence which is just as damaging as the military violence that made millions of Syrians leave their home? Is there a way to trigger something like the same outpouring of sympathy for economic victims, which is currently in such sort supply? Can people see that immigration is not a racial-economic problem of shifty foreigners stealing our jobs and degrading our culture? “No Borders” is not possible without a radical equalising of the global economy. Yet, it is also a way of seeing and thinking which is essential to getting to that equitable world.

Firstly we need some radical demands and then see where they take us. We must demand to detach essential goods from profit – perhaps starting with food, water and healthcare, none of which need the ‘profit motive’ in order to stimulate production. The mathematical modelling which traders now rely on could alternatively be used to develop a rational management of food growing and distribution so that no one goes hungry in this world of plenty. A global system of free public transport is not impractical either. The impending environmental disaster should be reason enough to justify some real and sensible de-growth. Private ownership of cars should be limited to those who have a specific need, and frequent fliers should be taxed in the same way as those people are who own a second home. No one can predict where this would lead, but undoubtedly the need for the poor of the world to leave their homes would be much less pressing.

The Labour Party is not going to give us this without us asking. Their manifesto boasts of adding 500 more border guards, albeit while also granting UK citizenship to resident EU-nationals to solve the Brexit problem, allowing foreign students to study here without immigration restrictions, ending “indefinite” detention and taking in a vaguely defined, “fair share of refugees”. It is still an immigration policy explicitly framed to suit the economic needs of business, based around “specific labour and skill shortages”. This is control of the movement of labour to suit the interests of capital.  A Corbyn-led Labour victory would probably help a little bit, but we need to be making visible the hidden flows of capital that cause these migrations otherwise we will remain a long way from convincing anyone of the validity of a No Borders politics.

Written by angrysampoetry

May 30, 2017 at 1:39 am

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