Statement by the International Communist League

Capitalist Europe’s War on Immigrants Is a War on All Workers

Workers of the World Unite!

The following statement was issued on 2 July 2002.

One day after a powerful general strike paralysed Spain on 20 June, Europe’s capitalist rulers met in Seville to ratchet up the war against immigrants as the spearhead of an attack against the proletariat as a whole. The competition between the dominant nations of the European Union (EU) for economic advantage in the midst of a recession meant the summit fell short of its stated goal of establishing supranational police-state measures, such as joint border patrols on land and sea, but all that and more is promised by the guardians of Fortress Europe. In the meantime, each capitalist ruling class is trying to outdo the next in raising the bar to immigration and enhancing police-state measures against immigrants with the aim of regimenting the entire population, driving down wages and slashing social gains which were wrested through decades of class struggle.

The Seville EU summit seized on the recent electoral gains by fascists like Le Pen and the British National Party (BNP) to pander to their anti-immigrant demagogy. Anti-immigrant racism is a timeworn method to divide the proletariat and deflect class struggle, but fundamentally the anti-immigrant campaign is driven not by “bad ideas” but by the workings of the capitalist economy and is enforced by bourgeois politicians from the left and the right. Large numbers of immigrants were brought into West Europe when their labour was needed, due in part to the low birthrate; now that Europe is in recession, the bourgeoisie does not need more immigrants as a supply of cheap labour or even as a “reserve army of labour.” It would be an embellishment of bourgeois democracy to believe that it would require fascism to have mass deportations of immigrants. Such in fact happened during the 1930s Great Depression in France, when the number of foreign workers was reduced by half a million through mass expulsions. And these workers were mainly European and Roman Catholic, much easier to assimilate than the forcibly segregated North Africans and black Africans. In the same period, there were mass deportations of Mexican immigrants from the United States.

A decade ago the Soviet Union was destroyed through capitalist counterrevolution. This monumental defeat for the international proletariat and the ensuing bourgeois triumphalism and lie that “communism is dead” has thrown back the consciousness of the proletariat and the youth who misidentify the Stalinist sellouts with communism. Capitalist rule in Europe is not challenged by a revolutionary-minded and insurrectionary proletariat today, and correspondingly the working class and the dark-skinned minorities and immigrant populations in Europe are repressed mainly through the “normal” workings of the whole capitalist system, from the cops in the ghettos to the capitalist courts, and the prisons which are vastly disproportionately filled with minorities and immigrants. In this context, parties that are by history, outlook and intent fascist, from Haider’s Freedom Party (FPÖ) to Le Pen’s National Front, have mainly advanced as electoral phenomena and pressure groups on more mainstream bourgeois parties.

The “normal” ebbs and flows of the world capitalist economy, which produce such vast human misery, cannot be eliminated short of the replacement of capitalism through proletarian socialist revolution. Those, like the social-democratic leaders and their “left” tails, who accept the capitalist framework necessarily become complicit in implementing and even spearheading anti-immigrant racism. The machinery of state repression has been augmented since September 11, but most of the anti-immigrant and anti-“terrorist” laws and policies were enacted years earlier by the “left” governments. The now-ousted French Socialist Party, which ruled France in a popular-front coalition with the Communist Party and the Greens, burns with anger that the new right-wing government claims credit for the racist “security” campaign which was in fact masterminded by the “left”! In order to rule on behalf of capital, the historic parties of the French working class, the Communists and the Socialists and their analogues in the trade-union bureaucracies, poison class consciousness and solidarity among the workers by fomenting religious, national and ethnic divisions. Thus the popular-front government paved the way for Le Pen’s big score in the recent French presidential elections and the election of a more right-wing government.

The so-called “far left” bears large responsibility too. Groups like the United Secretariat’s Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR) began the recent popular-front years with a vote for Jospin...and ended with a call to “bar the road to Le Pen”—i.e., vote Chirac! This is such a low, even for the LCR, which has long had the posture and backbone of a snake, that they feel compelled to publicly molt rather than defend their crime. The LCR were aggressive and energetic activists who channeled the massive youth demonstrations which shook France with justified outrage at the racism of Le Pen’s National Front into reactionary “Republican unity” with Chirac. Similarly in Britain, the Socialist Workers Party directed opposition to the BNP fascists into a call to vote for “anyone else”—i.e., even bourgeois parties, but especially Blair’s Labour Party. Each falsely proclaimed that there was an imminent danger of fascism, the better to corral support for Labour and even Chirac. Moreover, in situations where fascist gangs do pose an immediate threat, they cannot be stopped through parliamentarist means but only by mobilising the proletariat to crush them.

Defend Immigrants, Defend the Working Class!

In Italy, the new arsenal of repression includes roundups of immigrants for fingerprinting, as if being non-European makes one “criminal.” With the Vatican railing against marriages between Christians and Muslims, the Italian police launched “Operation Just Married” to snoop into mixed marriages. Residency permits will be limited to the duration of a work contract, so that seasonal agricultural workers will become “illegal” the moment a crop has been harvested, and Italian employers will be compelled to pay the state in advance for the deportation of any immigrant who overstays the work contract! This is not even particularly rational from the standpoint of the bourgeoisie, which needs a source of cheap agricultural labour. In a bald statement of the concerns of the ruling class, the Italian capitalist consortium negotiated exemptions from the government’s absurdly stringent immigration quotas for three professions: nurses, maids...and soccer players!

The right of asylum is under intensified attack everywhere: Blair’s Britain promises immediate deportations without right of appeal for rejected asylum-seekers, while Denmark claims the right to revoke asylum for refugees when the new right-wing government decides that any given country an immigrant fled has become sufficiently “democratic.”

Instilling racial hatred at an early age to inculcate patriotism and loyalty to the crown, rotting Britain threatens to forcibly segregate the children of asylum-seekers from other schoolchildren. In Germany, our comrades of the Spartakist Workers Party have been actively protesting against the computer-aided racist roundups of students. In this reactionary climate, immigrant workers and foreign students face not only persecution at the hands of the capitalist state but also stepped-up racist violence on the streets. As our Irish comrades noted following the murder of a Chinese student, “Fundamental responsibility for Zhao’s brutal murder lies with the Irish capitalist state whose anti-immigrant policies give a green light to race terrorists.”

Everywhere, families are being ripped apart through restrictions on “family reunion.” Women suffer the brunt of this. If they manage to join their husbands in Europe, they are often legally deprived of the right to work and so are forced into dangerous and low-wage black-market jobs. In France, apace with anti-immigrant laws, a veritable “marriage market” has spread like cancer in immigrant communities where an arranged marriage with a young woman possessing citizenship is now the last best hope of escaping poverty and political repression elsewhere. The slamming shut of doors to immigration and the segregation of oppressed communities tend to increase and help perpetuate arranged marriages, kidnappings, female genital mutilation, wife-beatings and “honour killings,” all of which are on the rise in Europe. These facts show that even a minimal democratic demand, like full citizenship rights for everyone who has managed to make it to a European country, is literally a question of life or death, especially for women.

The squalid war between Blair’s Britain and Chirac’s France to close the Sangatte Red Cross refugee camp exposes the hoax of the “free world” and the direct link between capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union and across East Europe and the rise of economic misery, imperialist war and political repression. Sangatte is filled with refugees from the bloody wars waged by U.S. imperialism and its NATO allies. Murderous nationalism, whipped up as the vehicle of capitalist counterrevolution to destroy the bureaucratically deformed workers states of East Europe, uprooted minority populations including the Roma and Sinti (Gypsies) in an orgy of “ethnic cleansing” a decade ago. Another flood of refugees was triggered by the U.S./NATO ravaging of what was left of the former Yugoslavia in the 1999 Balkans War. Today the Sangatte camp is filled with Iraqis fleeing ten years of the starvation blockade imposed by the United Nations.

Thousands of Afghans fled the hell created by U.S. imperialism’s support to the women-hating mujahedin. When Soviet forces entered Afghanistan in 1979 after repeated requests by the left-nationalist PDPA government, we of the ICL straightforwardly said, “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan! Extend social gains of the October Revolution to the Afghan peoples!” Gorbachev’s treacherous withdrawal in 1988-89 culminated in the victory of the Islamic fundamentalists and eventually the rule of the Taliban—truly a Frankenstein’s monster created by the U.S. imperialists with the help of their Pakistani allies. Now the terror bombing of Afghanistan by Bush, Blair and Co. in the name of the “war on terror” has created new thousands of refugees.

Borrowing from Le Pen’s campaign promise to close the Sangatte camp and deport the refugees, Chirac has announced plans to close the camp and in the meantime plans to build an enormous fence around the rail yard and install high-tech scanners to detect heartbeats in the tunnel. Not to be outdone, Tony Blair is mobilising the navy to turn back (read: fire on and sink) ships of refugees, and plans to cage asylum-seekers in militarised detention camps, and to bleach England through airlift deportations of dark-skinned immigrants and blatant racial exclusion of people trying to get into the country from airports elsewhere in Europe.

Meanwhile, anyone who does make it into Britain will be compelled to carry a national identity card. These police-state measures are intended to regiment and accustom the entire population to restrictions on democratic rights, to accept police identity checks as “normal,” to chill free speech and impede politically organising against the government and the ruling class. To this end, the whole spectrum of capitalist politicians from left to right is whipping up hysteria over immigrants as an alleged “enemy within.” The model for police-state control of Arab, African, Turkish and Asian populations in West Europe is the French state’s “Vigipirate.” The large population of North African descent, particularly the youth, are systematically brutalised by the French police, subjected to identity checks even in the hallways of their own apartment buildings, and treated as a “criminal” and “surplus” population. Changes in the French nationality code, whereby children born in France of immigrant parents no longer automatically gain French citizenship, prepare the ground for possible mass deportation. Peel back the “liberté, égalité, fraternité” facade and you’ll find a history of mass deportations whenever politically or economically advantageous to France’s capitalist rulers, from the Polish and Italian immigrants deported en masse between the two World Wars to the Jews stripped of French citizenship and deported to Nazi death camps under Vichy.

Capitalism needs a bogey man. Since the demise of the Soviet Union, the “red menace” has been largely replaced with orchestrated hysteria against the “green menace” of Islamic fundamentalism. This has reached fever pitch since September 11 and a new word, “Islamophobia,” has entered the lexicon to “explain” racist assaults on women in veils, men in turbans, and anyone suspected of being of Arab origin. The restrictions on civil liberties and the patriotic fervor have also been used to criminalise political dissent and outlaw parties and national liberation movements, from the Kurdish PKK and the Palestinian PFLP to the Turkish Guevarist DHKC and the Basque Batasuna organisation in Spain. Meanwhile, the biggest state terrorists rain bombs on Iraq and threaten invasion, continue to pound Afghanistan, and arm the Zionist state of Israel in its war against the Palestinian people. Now the leader of the “free world” has the gall to tell the Palestinian people who they can and can’t elect to represent them in the Occupied Territories and “homeland” overrun by Zionist stormtroopers. Israel out of the Occupied Territories! Defend the Palestinian people!

Racial Oppression Is Intrinsic to Capitalism

The “maximum programme” of social-democratic reformism and the so-called “left” groups who function as its apologists is to restore the “welfare state” and paint a “human face” on capitalist austerity. Contrary to the myths of reformists such as Lutte Ouvrière, who campaign to “ban layoffs” and demand that the cops fight “real crime” instead of bashing immigrants, the truth is that under capitalism the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and racial oppression is intrinsic to the workings of the whole rotten domestic and world system. Whether the government is dominated by social democrats or ultrarightists, the laws of capitalism work the same: the harder you work, the more wealth you produce for others, and the more precarious your existence becomes as you are at risk of being laid off. According to its economic needs, capitalism brings into the proletariat at its bottom new sources of cheaper labour, principally immigrants from poorer countries who are deemed disposable in times of economic contraction. As Karl Marx wrote in Capital (Volume I): “The degree of intensity of the competition among themselves [the workers] depends wholly on the pressure of the relative surplus population; as soon as, by Trades’ Unions, &c., they try to organise a regular co-operation between employed and unemployed in order to destroy or to weaken the ruinous effects of this natural law of capitalistic production on their class, so soon capital and its sycophant, political economy, cry out at the infringement of the ‘eternal’ and so to say ‘sacred’ law of supply and demand. Every combination of employed and unemployed disturbs the ‘harmonious’ action of this law.”

That is why we in the ICL fight for the unity and integrity of the working class against chauvinism and racism. The struggle in defence of immigrant labour today is a vital task for the working class as a whole. We fight for: Full citizenship rights for all immigrants! No deportations! Free the detainees! Organise the unorganised! Cops, prison guards and security guards out of the unions! For labour/immigrant mobilisations against fascist attacks! Jobs for all—For a sliding scale of hours at no loss in pay! Expropriate the bourgeoisie—For a planned, socialist economy organised internationally! In every country where we exist, the ICL has fought to expose the lie of “national unity” between workers and bosses and to rally the proletariat in class solidarity with immigrants and minorities. As an example of this perspective, on 9 February in the San Francisco Bay Area our American comrades mobilised a labour-based united-front rally around the slogans: “Anti-Terrorist Laws Target Immigrants, Blacks, Labour—No to the USA-Patriot Act and the Maritime Security Act! Down With the Anti-Immigrant Witchhunt!”

There are important developments in Europe that point the way to a class-struggle road to unite the proletariat in defence of its own interests against attacks by capital. From Turkish/Kurdish metal workers in Germany to black and Asian transport workers in London, immigrants and their children are a key component of strategic, unionised sectors of the proletariat. In Italy and Germany, there have been important breaks with the narrow economism and national chauvinism pushed by the trade-union bureaucrats in their role as “labour lieutenants of capital.” Thus in Italy, the CGIL trade-union federation and COBAS have called general strikes by labour and immigrants against the Bossi/ Fini anti-immigrant law and also against the Berlusconi government’s attempt to make the labour market “flexible” for increased exploitation by shredding union gains won through several decades of hard-fought battles! In response to popular outrage, Rifondazione Comunista (RC) is now obliged to call protests calling for closing down the detention centres which RC itself had earlier voted for setting up. In Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz on 20 June, a mass picket of German construction workers spiked an attempt to manipulate Portuguese immigrants as strikebreakers, by appealing to them to fight alongside the union in struggling for the rights of all labour, including foreign workers. As the Portuguese workers applauded and refused to cross the picket line, the strikers yelled, “Long live international solidarity!” This shows, as our comrades in Germany said in their leaflet to these strikers, “German, foreign and immigrant workers can only push forward their interests together, or they will be beaten back separately.”

Advancement along this class-struggle road is obstructed by reformists and trade-union misleaders who deploy strikes not to combat capitalist rule but as pressure tactics on capitalist politicians to whom they are ultimately beholden. Thus the IG Metall strike, which united German, Turkish and Kurdish workers in struggle in May, was called off by the SPD [Social Democratic Party] union tops as soon as SPD party leader Schröder warned that a long strike would cost the German capitalists money (isn’t that the point of strikes, to hit the bosses in their pocketbooks?) and so threaten the SPD’s standing in upcoming parliamentary elections. Similarly, Italy’s Rifondazione Comunista leader, Bertinotti, supports strike action against the Berlusconi government explicitly to put a centre-left coalition back in power to better manage capitalist rule. RC’s left wing, the “Proposta” group, now admits that RC shares responsibility for anti-immigrant laws during its support to the Prodi government, but their role is to keep leftist militants within the fold of RC reformism. As our Italian comrades have noted of Proposta, “Their perspective is not to build a Leninist vanguard party to lead the workers to power, but a ‘left pole’ that puts pressure on the reformist leaders and contributes to bringing them back to the helm of capitalism” (Spartaco No. 60, May 2002).

For a Socialist Fight for a Workers Europe!

The rise of racist demagogy, government attacks on immigrants and the threat of fascist terror bands can only be eradicated through a victorious struggle against the capitalist system. This perspective is the fundamental point of departure separating the ICL from all of our competitors in the workers movement. The anarchist milieu, while often admirably audacious in militant protests against the powers that be, lacks a programme to effectively combat much less replace the rule of capital. At bottom, their worldview is that of streetfighting liberals: pressure politics expressing justified outrage outside meetings of the capitalist rulers, rather than loathsome suit-and-tie parliamentary reformism. It’s not enough to protest, it’s necessary to have a perspective to fight to transform society, to topple the rapacious imperialist system and create a workers state as the necessary first step on the road to a global classless society. The former Stalinist parties and the social democrats long ago made their peace with capitalist rule; indeed, across Europe they administered it and augmented the attacks on the working class and immigrants. Our pseudo-Trotskyist competitors peddle their wares in the shadow of the social democracy because their aim is not to forge an authentic Leninist party by splitting the proletarian base of the reformist parties from their pro-capitalist tops but to pressure these misleaders.

On the question of immigration, groups like Workers Power promote the call to “open the borders.” It’s a catchy slogan, but what it would mean for “Third World” countries is an open door for imperialist investors. More generally, it is a utopian and reactionary demand for an egalitarian world within the framework of capitalism. It is retrograde to promote the notion that somehow capitalism can be made rational or humane. Unlike groups such as Workers Power, which spout rhetoric against racism and slogans like “open the borders” but politically support the chauvinist social democrats, we seek urgently to mobilise the working class to take up the fight for full citizenship rights for all who manage to cross the borders and to drive home the understanding that the source of exploitation of all labour is the capitalist system of production, which is defended to the bitter end by the capitalist state. Until we achieve an internationally planned, socialist economy based on collectivised property, it will not be possible to abolish the state or national borders. The nation-state is the basis of the organisation of the capitalist economy, and to deny that is to capitulate to muddle-headed bourgeois “democrats.” As Lenin said in his April 1917 speech on the national question, “What does ‘Down with frontiers’ mean? It is the beginning of anarchy.... Only when the socialist revolution has become a reality, and not a method, will the slogan ‘Down with frontiers’ be a correct slogan.”

Against capitalist Fortress Europe, our perspective is the fight for the socialist United States of Europe as a vital step in the world socialist revolution. The necessary instruments to bring the working class to power are Leninist parties, politically guided with a programme that is proletarian, revolutionary and internationalist. We fight to reforge the Fourth International founded by Leon Trotsky. Despite the regression in political consciousness today and the huge gulf between our purpose and present means, it is evident that there is no shortage of combativity and desire on the part of the working people, oppressed minorities and youth to fight. For their struggles to be successful and not derailed into the trap of reformist pressure politics, it is urgent to construct a revolutionary leadership. This is what the sections of the ICL fight for, nothing other and nothing less.