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The truth about immigration waits at the Polish border

It is not some natural crisis like a hurricane or a flood: migrants on the move are fleeing war, poverty and climate change — and those responsible must be held to account, writes NICK WRIGHT writing in the Morning Star

THE causes of modern migration lie in empire and slavery. From the early 1500s until the late 19th century, 12.5 million Africans were transported to the Americas and the Caribbean, with two million dying on the way.

Over 1.5 million Indians — people from what is now India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bangladesh — were transported around the British empire.

Almost all modern-day migration to Britain of people descended from these migratory millions arrived here from the British empire in order to meet the labour market demands of the “mother country.”

This, until the restrictions that accompanied the postwar Immigration Acts, was allowed by the “free” movement of people around the British empire.

Such unforced movement was principally the free movement of migrants from Britain to the colonies and dominions.

Over 22 million British people left Britain to live and work in the empire. Some 2.3 million emigrated in the first decade of the 20th century alone.

The 17th-century prototype for this pattern of migration as the instrument of colonial domination was the settlement of Ireland.

Some 100,000 British settlers had invaded the Irish mainland by 1640 and drove the existing inhabitants off the best land.

The obvious utility of emigration for the consolidation of empire should not blind us to the triggers for these patterns of migration, which included agricultural depression and the effects of land enclosures in driving people from the land, religious persecution and civil strife.

Karl Marx made the point that “in reducing the Irish population by eviction and forcible emigration, to such a small number that English capital (capital invested in land leased for farming) can function there with ‘security.’

“It has the same interest in clearing the estates of Ireland as it had in the clearing of the agricultural districts of England and Scotland.”

The drivers for migration today lie principally in the ravages of imperialist war, the poverty of people living in countries burdened with the legacy of colonialism and the effects of the global climate crisis.

This contemporary tide of distressed humanity invariable runs up against the borders that the more developed capitalist countries defend with ruthless efficiency and an indifference to the human cost.

For the European Union, “freedom of movement” is a highly conditional right exercised in the interests of each state in which the demands of the market in human labour is paramount.

The Belarus government, under siege from a US-sponsored and EU-supported “colour revolution” has allowed various capitalist airlines, including some registered in the EU, to provide transit for people — many from the Middle East and Afghanistan — anxious to find a more secure living in the EU, mostly it seems, in Germany.

Belarus still retains substantial elements of its socialist planned economy, is not a member of the EU and is not bound by any obligation to police the EU’s racist immigration regime.

Germany, of course, under the (continuing) leadership of Angela Merkel, was happy enough to take its pick of the more educated Middle Eastern migrant population in order to enhance the skill-set of its working population.

Meanwhile Polish sensibilities, most evident but not exclusively on the right wing, are upset that Germany and Russia appear to be seeking a compromise that might favour the energy deals which unite the two countries against US and EU opposition — and doing so with the usual indifference to Polish concerns.

Migration is a hot topic in German politics and the divisions do not fit easy stereotypes. Germany’s Green Party is enthusiastically in favour of a confrontation with Russia, China and any state in the region that aligns with either, including the stationing of Bundeswehr troops abroad

Its latest policy is for a robust reinforcement of the European Union’s eastern border, the better to protect its particular concept of European values.

The far-right Allianz fur Deutschland (AfD), which has much of its electoral base along Germany’s eastern borders, is a conduit for the opposition to migration into Germany.

The unorthodox left-wing German Bundestag deputy from Die Linke (Left Party), Sahra Wagenknecht, has challenged liberal responses to the rise of the far right to make the point that in challenging racism it is necessary to name those responsible for the flight of refugees and migrant workers and for the massive “austerity” cuts which dramatise all social problems in which migrants are entangled.

She had calumny heaped upon her for suggesting that in a factual and democratic debate about migration that there are many people who oppose racism and xenophobia and at the same time consider the regulation of migration to be essential.

The German Communist Party (DKP) makes the satirical point that the EU and Nato are threatening new sanctions against a “dictator” (Alexander Lukashenko) because, unlike other dictators, he refuses to seal off the borders with barbed wire.

The European Union is actively discussing measures to reinforce the confines of the superstate with an enhanced physical barrier to supplement the steel fortifications it has subsidised with a €9 billion subvention to Turkey and the less visible but more murderous commercial arrangement it has with the piratical commanders of what passes as Libya’s “coastguard.”

On the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, which protected peace for three decades, one group of EU states — including Poland, Latvia and Lithuania — demand an EU effort to wall off the eastern border of the EU (and Nato).

In a demonstration of the peculiar political unity that characterises the EU, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says No — there shall be no EU money for the fortifications, but EU Council president Charles Michel thinks there should be.

And as a contingent of British military engineers arrives to reinforce the border barriers, Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg joins in the chorus defending European freedom and values against a freedom of movement for the Kurdish and Yezidi refugees camped out in the border forests.

Turkey, patron to fractious slave-holding Libyan militias, is busily bombing people living in the border areas of Syria while Turkish airlines transport the victims of this conflict to Minsk.

British Home Secretary Priti Patel is minded to introduce into the English Channel precisely the measures which European Union states employ to stem the flow of African migrants who are obliged to pay the criminal gangs which, under the patronage of various European powers and the US, manage the slave economy of Libya and control and tax the migrant flow across the Mediterranean.

The judgement of lawyers that Patel’s plan would be illegal, doesn’t appear to have blunted her enthusiasm — and there is an active media campaign to demonise the desperate souls who risk life and limb to cross the English Channel.

The government of France is currently one object of her animosity.

France, of course, is the transit route for many of the African and north African, Afghan, Iraqi and Iranian migrants and refugees who want to come to Britain.

These are mostly English-speaking people from former British colonies, or areas under the political influence of British imperialism, or fleeing imperialist war.

French-speaking migrants from existing and former French colonies and Francophone Africa naturally tend to stay in France.

French President Emmanuel Macron faces a contest with several far-right, anti-migrant politicians, including the patrician Michel Barnier — who led for the EU in the Brexit negotiations.

Thus Macron has a clear incentive to appear tough with Britain, and until the elections are over there will not be much extra effort from the French side to manage the flow of migrant crossings.

Patel can rely on winter conditions in the Channel to raise the death rate and stem the flow of crossings. In this she is no less morally compromised than the Turkish generals or Libyan jihadis to whom the EU has subcontracted the policing of Fortress Europe.

Her Nationality and Borders Bill along with the Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill are designed to further demonise the already discriminated people in our communities. Both Bills must be defeated.

Anyone with pretensions to left-wing politics who makes the people fleeing poverty, climate change and imperial war an enemy of the working class is in danger of joining this morally bankrupt crew.

This is not to say that either the migratory flows of labour within capitalist Europe — for which the EU treaties legislated — or the present-day refugee flows do not threaten the capacity of the actually existing working class to maintain wage levels and conditions of work.

This is capitalism. Of course they do. And in challenging Die Linke’s runaway accommodation with liberalism and German capital, Wagenknecht has compelled a rethink.

When famine and unemployment in 19th-century colonial Ireland drove Irish workers to Britain, Marx wrote: “The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who lowers his standard of life.

“In relation to the Irish worker he regards himself as a member of the ruling nation and consequently he becomes a tool of the English aristocrats and capitalists against Ireland, thus strengthening their domination over himself.

“He cherishes religious, social and national prejudices against the Irish worker … This antagonism is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organisation.

“It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power.”

Wages are always under attack and for a decade have been at a standstill.

No-one can credibly claim that the competition for work presented by migrant workers is the decisive factor in driving down wages, even if it has some effect at the margins or in particular sectors.

This is our Auf Widersehen moment. The world has been spanned by migrant British workers over two centuries.

From a moral point of view a working-class response lies not in scapegoating migrants. Rather the working-class interest is in fighting for wage equality, union organisation, collective agreements and sectoral bargaining which raise the wages of all workers.

Refugees should not be charge on the state, they should be integrated into the working population and pay their taxes.

Lukashenko’s strategy may be working. He and Merkel have been in conference. There may be a resolution to this particular border problem in the offing.

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