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The refugee crisis an outcome of capitalist barbarism

16 September 2015

In response to the current refugee storm a Palestinian activist remarked that, if pictures of dead children changed anything, Palestine would long have been free.

The bitterness is understandable. However it would be wrong to write off the response to the refugee crisis as light-headed liberalism. Rather it is better understood as the potential to, as Marx said, transform from quantity to quality and become a broad opposition to the crimes of imperialism.

The capitalist powers have been exhibiting an increasing barbarism. Mass penury is imposed on their own populations. The wars they direct and provoke grow increasingly bloody. As refugees flee devastation they slander and criminalise them, applying a policy called "pushing the rope" - making conditions at holding centres so hellish that new refugees will not come. It is bare months since they withdrew rescue services from the central area of the Mediterranean, leaving thousands to drown. They constantly refer to migrants, because refugees are meant to be offered refuge and dismiss "economic migrants,''  as if fleeing starvation was bad and only war can be advanced as a legitimate reason for flight.

Against this background the role of the small socialist movement is crucial. Only the socialist movement, for all its weaknesses and fragmentation, can offer an alternative. In its absence mass solidarity is left to lobby capitalism and imperialism and they will give some ground before returning to business as usual. British PM Cameron is a perfect example of smoke and mirrors barely concealing a steely determination to keep refugees out, refusing to accept any in transit they should all go back to Syria and try again. The scheme he proposes is stretched over years and requires some extra injury or level of misery beyond refugee status before the victims are even considered. The hypocrisy of the Irish government is not far behind British barbarism. 

The first step is to outline what is necessary: Open borders and unrelenting opposition to the war plans of the imperialists and their allies. 

Next we have to outline a mechanism for achieving these goals. To do so we have to analyze the motives of the European powers. Their behaviour is perfectly logical. 

Germany for example, has an expanding economy and a shortage of labour. The humanitarian face it turns briefly to refugees is perfectly at one with the scowl it directs at Greek workers, who it invites to starve in order to secure German banks. In eastern Europe countries like Hungary are controlled by regimes who rely on whipping up hatred against their own minorities and find it no trouble at all to target refugees. They have mass unemployment and intend to export their own surplus population to the west through the Schengen agreement

In Britain there is also economic growth and a skill shortage. In the past Blair and new Labour kept wages down by employing Eastern European workers, so avoiding conflict with native workers. Now the Tories want to directly confront British workers and push the benefit system to the point of starvation so that local labour costs go down and stay down. Hysteria which labels refugees as migrants and warns of the foreign swarm fit perfectly within that strategy.

That's why the workers should support open borders. The idea that capitalists are protecting "their" workers is laughable. They want to ensure that the workers fight among themselves. They have already convinced many people, in the face of all the evidence, that the poor are responsible for the economic crisis. Now they argue that a shortage of resources limits the intake of refugees.

Those who urge that volunteers take refugees into their own homes, no matter how laudable their motives, are diverting attention from the endless resources held by the capitalist state. The fact is that human wealth and resources in the advanced capitalist countries are incomparably greater today than in any other period in history. It is also the case that these resources are concentrated into fewer and fewer hands.

The answer for the refugee family, for the homeless people living in shop doorways, the answer that represents working class interest, is that unused property be opened to the homeless. We should ask governments to take that action. When they refuse we must build a movement to supplant them and act on our own behalf.

The alternative - to join with the capitalists and collude in mass murder - does not bear thinking about.


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