The current refugee crisis has brought out some of the horrors of capitalist society, as well as the contrast between the basic human solidarity of ordinary working people and the cold calculation and callousness of capitalist rulers in Europe and elsewhere.
The images of men, women and children fleeing the horrors of civil war, hunger and destruction only to find death at sea or in the back of lorries and be confronted by barbed wire, riot police, detention camps and forced deportation, have shocked millions and forced them to think about the causes and solutions to this situation.
It is our duty to first of all provide answers and understand what are the origins of this crisis. Refugees are fleeing countries which have been plunged into civil war. The biggest numbers now making their way into Greece and then to Hungary are from Syria, Afghanistan and Kosovo. Imperialist war and meddling is directly responsible for the situation in these countries.
The defeat of the popular uprising in Syria and its descent into reactionary sectarian insurgency was the result of the intervention of the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia, as well as the main imperialist powers, the US, Britain and France. The rise of ISIS is the direct consequence of the imperialist invasion of Iraq. The ongoing civil war in Afghanistan can be traced back again to the imperialist war and even further back to the US and Saudi support and funding for the reactionary mujahadeen. The situation in Kosovo is the latest chain in the reactionary breakup of Yugoslavia, fomented and encouraged by the imperialist meddling of Germany over 20 years ago.
Imperialism is responsible for the situation which has pushed millions out of their countries but it is not prepared to accept the consequences.
The bombing of Libya, carried out for so-called “humanitarian” reasons, has led to the collapse of state structures in the country and large parts of the territory being run directly by reactionary Islamic fundamentalists. The Gaddafi regime was a brutal one. It collaborated with the fortress EU policy (in exchange for subsidies) by keeping sub-Saharan African migrants and refugees in detention camps in terrible conditions. However, Marxists always stressed the fact that the task of overthrowing Gaddafi belonged to the Libyan masses. Where such regimes have been overthrown by imperialist intervention, rather than achieving “modern democratic regimes”, it has led to barbarism. In such conditions, therefore, the downfall of the Gaddafi regime simply allowed other reactionary forces to emerge, with the de facto breakup of the country, which has opened a route into the not so distant Italian islands.
From our point of view there can be no fundamental difference between refugees and migrants. Both groups are fleeing capitalism’s imposed horrors in their countries of origin. Some might be pushed mainly by civil war and human rights abuses, others are fleeing hunger and deprivation brought on by imperialist exploitation. In most cases it is actually a combination of both: hunger and deprivation brought on by war, violation of basic human rights such as the right to a roof over one’s head and a meal on one’s table.
The response of the European Union, now and in the past, has been that of building up walls and ever more sophisticated systems to prevent the entry of the hungry and the fearful. In 15 years the EU has spent 1.6 billion euro in developing physical and economic barriers to prevent the entry of migrants. Four large multinational companies have benefited from the majority of these lucrative contracts (Airbus, Thales, BAE and Finmeccanica). All of them are amongst the world’s ten largest arms manufacturers. In the same period of time the EU and Schengen countries have spent 11 billion euro in centrally coordinated deportations (which are only a small proportion of the total number). European capitalists pride themselves at the destruction of the Berlin Wall, while they are busy building walls in Ceuta and Melilla, Serbia, Bulgaria and now Hungary. Large amounts of money are also spent in funding detention camps in non-EU countries.
It is this fortress Europe policy which forces hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees into the hands of the people smugglers to try to get into Europe via illegal routes. This is a very lucrative business. According to some estimates, migrants have paid 1 billion euro a year over the last 15 years to pay for their way into the EU. Over 30,000 have died. Over 2,500 have drowned in the Mediterranean this year so far. The more Europe strengthens its borders, the more dangerous the routes and ways of entering become. The capitalist media choose to demonise people smugglers, as if they were the sole cause of the problem. These are certainly callous criminal gangs which have no regard for human life and are only interested in profit. That, however, is a description which fits capitalist business in general. Human smugglers do not create refugees nor push migrants towards more advanced capitalist countries. They simply benefit from the existing migration movement and the attempt of Europe to stop it by building ever higher and more impenetrable walls.
The real attitude of the capitalist politicians was revealed by comments made by Cameron earlier last year when he said that search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean had to be ended as they had a “pull effect” of “encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing”. And end they did. The previous Italian-run search and rescue operation was replaced by a Frontex-led “Triton” operation whose remit is simply to “coastguard”.
This is not to say that capitalists are actually against migration. Migrant workers are very useful from the point of view of capitalist companies. At one end of the scale they provide highly skilled workers for which there have been no training costs. At the other end they provide cheap illegal labour which a section of the ruling class exploit breaking the law and can use generally to bring down wages across the board. They also provide the ruling class with a convenient scapegoat to blame for cuts in public services, scarcity of affordable housing, all of which are the result of the capitalist crisis and the policies of the ruling class to make the workers pay for it. The workers’ movement must respond with a clear policy of working class unity and militant struggle for better jobs and conditions for all.
The current refugee crisis in fact is not related to the numbers seeking asylum in the EU. Germany is the country which has received the highest number of asylum applications and that number is lower than the number in the early 1990s at the time of the breakup of Yugoslavia. The crisis has emerged because of the disgusting scramble between different EU “partners” to see who foots the bill, politically and financially. What it reveals in reality is another episode in the EU crisis.
Greece and Italy are the two countries which are the first point of arrival for migrants and refugees crossing the sea. Other EU countries are quite happy to keep it that way. The latest “crisis” was brought about by the migrants getting organised and forcing their way through the borders into Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary, where they attempted to continue their journey towards Germany and Sweden, the two countries receiving the largest number of applications for asylum (in absolute numbers in the case of Germany, relative to population in the case of Sweden).
Rally supporting refugees in front of Austrian Parliament August 31 - Photo Daniel HrncirMerkel in Germany feels under pressure politically over the issue of immigration and is demanding other countries take their “fair share”. The response of the UK government was that they were prepared “to take zero, but would double that number if under pressure”. Right wing governments everywhere in Europe feel under pressure from organisations to their right espousing crude racist anti-immigrant and nationalist views. In reality these views do not reflect the real opinions of the majority of working people and can only gain a certain degree of support because they are fostered by the ruling class and the capitalist media, but above all, because they go unchallenged by the leaders of the labour movement organisations (political and trade union).
What we have seen in the recent days has been the opposite: an outpouring of solidarity and practical help for the refugees. In Greece over the summer, holiday makers and island inhabitants took it on themselves to help refugees crossing over from nearby Turkey. In the former Yugoslavia people, remembering their own history, have come out to help refugees in Belgrade and other cities. Even in the prevalent reactionary mood in Hungary, dozens of volunteers have helped refugees at the main train station in Budapest and thousands have demonstrated against Orban’s reactionary policies.At football stadiums across Austria and Germany, banners in support of refugees have been raised. The movement in Austria has been particularly strong with 30,000 marching in Vienna and then organising practical help for the refugees arriving in trains. Now that trains have been blocked by the Hungarian authorities, Austrian volunteers have organised a convoy of cars and coaches to go and get the refugees.
In Spain, faced with the inaction of the reactionary PP government, the Barcelona local council, run by a newly elected popular unity list, has taken the initiative of organising to receive refugees. The council has been overwhelmed by popular response to the appeal, with hundreds volunteering to help. This has sparked the creation of a network of refugee-welcoming local councils.
In Britain nearly a hundred thousand have pledged to attend a protest demonstration in London on September 12, with similar demonstrations being organised across the country. In just a couple of days, an official petition demanding that Britain takes more refugees has gathered 400,000 signatures.
Everywhere this is becoming a political issue of the first order. This is of course a direct reaction to the images in the mass media over the last few days: the dead bodies of children washing up on the shores of Turkey and the 71 people who died in the back of a lorry in Austria.
There is also something more. This developing movement is part of a more general, deep undercurrent of mistrust and opposition towards bourgeois politicians and the capitalist establishment in general which we have seen across the world. It is part of the same phenomena as the rise of Podemos in Spain, the massive impact of the Corbyn campaign in Britain and the huge anti-austerity protests we have seen in the recent period.
The movement around the question of migration and refugees has the potential to challenge the very foundations of the capitalist system. For it to develop, however, two things are necessary.
The first is to work towards a full mobilisation of the might of the working class and its organisations. Trade unions have the numbers, the logistics to organise the practical solidarity on a serious basis. Working people are also those driving the trains which are now being blocked and handling the planes used in deportations. Of course, the official organisations are extremely bureaucratised and their lack of action should not be used as an excuse for passivity. The movement has already thrown up its own forms of organisation and networks of coordination. Still, a conscious effort to involve the organised working class at all levels is crucial for the movement to go further.
Second, the political arguments need to be developed and refined. The basic human instinct of solidarity is a good start, but we also need to be able to answer sharply the question posed by the racist capitalist media, i.e. who pays? We need to be clear on this. The ruling class has used, and will continue to use, the issue of migration and refugees to divide working people, attempting to blame migrants for the brutal austerity cuts they are imposing. We say NO, the refugees are welcome, and it is the capitalists, the bankers and arms manufacturers who should pay. If they could find trillions of euro to bail out the banks, why can billions not be found to welcome refugees and migrants?
Where is the money going to come from to provide them with houses, schools, healthcare? A good start would be a levy on the profits of arms manufacturers which have made handsome profits from the wars in these countries (in most cases with government guaranteed contracts). All properties left empty by the collapse of the housing bubble should be expropriated without compensation to house both refugees and local homeless people. Measures along these lines would pose the question starkly: it is the capitalists which have to pay for the fallout from their imperialist wars and imperialist exploitation policies.
The spontaneous solidarity of ordinary working people towards the refugees all across Europe is the answer to all the cynics and right-wing demagogues, who try to portray an image of working people as selfish, greedy individuals. Working people are not stupid. They can see who has caused this humanitarian crisis. They know who is to blame. They can see the glaring contradiction of a system that finds the billions necessary to finance military interventions such as the Iraq war or the bombing of Libya, but then claims we cannot afford to help the millions who have been displaced by those same wars.
The labour movement and its organisations must provide an answer also to the growing poverty levels across Europe, where a significant section of workers and youth have seen a dramatic worsening of their living conditions, with growing unemployment and cuts in real wages and pensions. If they do not, then the right-wing reactionaries will use this to pit the poor of Europe against the incoming migrants and refugees. The ruling class will use this to divide workers. We must not allow them to do this.
In the last analysis, there are enough resources in society to fulfill the needs of people fleeing from war, deprivation, hunger and exploitation. Latest figures show that there are eleven million empty dwellings across Europe. These would be enough to provide cheap affordable housing for all, both the poor and homeless of Europe and the migrants. It is not a question of houses “either for the native inhabitants or the immigrants”.
The reason tens of millions go hungry, hundreds of thousands die from curable diseases and hundreds of millions lack access to basic facilities, healthcare and education is not the influx of refugees and migrants. It is the private profit making system that is to blame. There are enough resources in the world to solve all these problems. The expropriation of the world’s largest monopolies under democratic workers’ control would put them at the service of the needs of the many not the private profit of a few unelected parasites.
The crisis of the capitalist system on a global scale explains the many local wars and civil wars we are seeing. War is terribly profitable… for a handful of ultra-rich capitalists. For the masses it brings terrible suffering. So long as capitalism survives there will be no end to this suffering. It is a powerful argument in favour of the international struggle of the workers of all countries for the overthrow of capitalism globally and for world socialism.